We are the only country in the world established with the right to pursue happiness as a constitutional tenet. That may be part of why Americans are so determined to find happiness. I think it’s why we chomp through our natural resources at a higher rate than everyone else.  Pushed by the self-interest of commercial interests, happiness has become confused with consumerism.

Why are we so confused about what makes us happy? We get a promotion at work and the work/life balance escapes us. We move in with the partner of our dreams and our sex life escapes us. All evidence indicates that even winning the lottery most often leads to more problems than joy. We chase after happiness in hundreds of different ways.

Daniel Gilbert, the author of Stumbling on Happiness says that we really have no idea what makes us happy. He cites a great deal of research that finds that our ideas about happiness are misguided because our imagination is flawed.

Happiness, Expectations, Acceptance

Denmark is consistantly rated as the nation with the most satisfied citizenry. Scientists think that they know why. It’s because they live their lives with lower expectations. They don’t imagine that everything should be wonderful.

Lowering expectations is almost always a good idea. If you’re looking for the perfect partner you’ll forever be disappointed. Love isn’t about seeking perfection, it’s about accepting the lack of it. It’s about understanding what imperfections you can live with. Having children, like being in a relationship, is both glorious and stressful. Parenting entails signing up for both. The perfect vacation can be disrupted by imperfect weather, accepting that possibility is helpful.

Americans really want life to be unentangled, we desire life to move forward in a straight line of progress. The reality is that life is messy. Failure, disruption and disappointment are part of the deal. Any true biography will reveal both wins and losses. Coleen McCann say it best, “pain is a requirement of life, not a curse.” Think of all the talented people – artists, musicians, poets and writers – who never get a real chance to share their talents with the world at large. Someone who can feel good about the trying and know that taking risks matters all by itself, will be happier.The Pursuit of Happiness

Sometimes happiness means listening to that voice within you that nourishes a dream. A lot of people carry around negativity mislabeled as “being realistic.” It is easy to allow fear to squelch risk taking. Accept that messiness is a huge part of life. My husband and I moved to Pittsburgh in 1975 knowing absolutely no one, being too broke to even visit before making our decision. It was a risk that allowed us to literally stumble into happiness. So roll the dice and accept that tradeoffs, both good and bad, are a part of every choice.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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