Happy milestones [or not]
I have decided to finally read “Happier” by Tal Ben-Shahar. It’s a book I acquired nearly two years ago, but I’ve never quite got around to really reading it. Instead, I’ve just flipped through the pages from time to time. I think the reason I’ve never really read it is that I have always felt odd passing by the self-evaluations (called “time-ins”) and personal exercises.
However, I’ve decided that this is the year I will finally read the book; the year I will finally work through the book. And I think that part of the process for that might be to use the blog to share my thoughts. Feel free to reflect on the tasks yourself, too. (But please don’t feel obligated to share your thoughts with me. Although you may if you’d like.)
The first “Time In” is to reflect on a couple of personal experiences where reaching a certain milestone did not bring the emotional payoff I expected. The author prefaces this by sharing a story about his own hard work and dedication towards an athletic achievement that didn’t bring him the long-term happiness he’d expected.
It’s actually rather difficult to think of examples. Not because every “happy” milestone I’ve ever reached has brought me nothing but happiness, but because most of my happy milestones have really been stepping stones towards a larger, greater happiness goal.
If I start with the happy milestones that did bring me the payoff I (mostly) expected, I can easily name two: (1) My wedding, and the happy marriage that followed and (2) the day we were approved as adoptive parents, and the match with two beautiful children that followed.
Now, I say mostly because the death of my husband two weeks before the adoptive placement was meant to begin kind of ended the happiness. But not because of unfulfilled expectations, rather by unexpected personal tragedy. So I can’t really count those.
Since then, my goals have shifted drastically. But the milestones I’ve set for myself have all been planned for long term happiness, not as individual things that would in themselves bring happiness.
So, did my return to Scotland bring me happiness? Yes. Did my Master’s degree bring me happiness? Yes. Did starting my PhD bring me happiness? Yes.
Did any of those big milestones bring me the long-lasting happiness I yearn for? No. But to be honest, I didn’t expect any of them to.
Instead, I had hoped that those milestones would bring me to a new place of personal contentment. And that maybe, over time, there would be enough personal contentment to create a happier me.
A happier me. Yes, all of my stepping stones and milestones are determined to create a happier me – not to in themselves make me happy.
And do you know what? I am happier. I am happier today than I was in the days, weeks, and months after Paul died. I am happier today than I was when I first returned to Scotland. And I am happier today than when I finished my Master’s degree or started my PhD. And I believe that I will grow increasingly happier with time. Mostly.
And do you know what? I think that realising that a single milestone isn’t going to make me happy for the long term is, in itself, a pretty important milestone.
But I will also admit that I am hoping – really, really, really hoping – that if I gather up enough of these little happy moments, I will keep feeling happier in my general self. And maybe once those little happy moments accumulate enough, I will be ready for one of those big, massive milestones that do bring forth a higher level of long-term happiness.
In the meantime, however, I will just enjoy the fact that life is growing (mostly) happier as time goes on.
So that’s a bit of a rambling post… but I think that the act of writing it will make reading this book a little bit happier.