Your Happiness Doesn’t Have a Finish Line
By Janice Quirt
Photo © Elisall/Twenty20
Feb 25, 2021
I’ll never forget when reading a children’s book to my nephews unsettled me for days.
I was in my 20s, and working hard at my goals, and striving for the perfect, happy life.
The book was the amazing Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece, a fairly warm and straightforward tale — or so I thought.
It’s about a circle that has a wedge missing who rolls along, having adventures, looking for a piece that fits just right. Along the way the circle finds lots of potential “mates” that end up being unsuitable for any number of reasons. Finally, the circle finds the perfect wedge and they roll along blissfully together, until the circle isn’t happy anymore. No longer able to sing or take in the wonder of the journey now that the quest is fulfilled, it puts down the piece gently and rolls away, un-whole and yet happily experiencing life once more.
Do your kids have goals? Keep track of them in these colourful and gorgeous jars! Learn how to make them here.
I finished the book and immediately thought: WTF? What was this story saying? That even after you achieve your heartfelt goal, after a lot of hard work, you might still not be happy? Might still be unfulfilled and want for something else?
“Whatever, it’s just a kids' book,” I remember thinking, and then got back to my busy life of trying to achieve all the things, land the jobs and buy the house that would lead to my desired happiness.
Except, of course, it’s true. The pursuit of happiness is not so simple.
What Do You Need?
These days, experts talk about looking at achieving an overall sense of well-being. Some recommend simply covering off your basic physiological needs, while maintaining rich and meaningful social interactions.
The way I see it, it's unrealistic to think that we can live our lives forever in a state of happiness.
If that did happen, bliss would become our new normal. And then it would cease to be, well, blissful, and we would soon no longer be fulfilled, just like the circle that found its missing piece. As we guide our children and families on the road to happiness, I believe it's important to keep in mind that we might need to redefine "happiness" as seeking well-being, with opportunities for brief intervals of joy, made all the more spectacular because they are fleeting.
Is COVID-19 a strain on your child's mental health? Here is how one mother is helping her teen through it. Read that here.
Our Present Normal
An example of this has been the past year, replete for many of us with more than ample time to sleep, watch TV and even pursue some homebound pursuits: gardening, baking, crafting, organizing. For some, it was an extension of much-longed-for downtime, with lots of naps and Netflix, family time and working from home (a much coveted perk pre-pandemic for many). And yet, after months of this, it turns out that we’re not magically happy. The ticket to bliss wasn’t, in fact, having enough time to catch up on sleep, family time or our favourite shows. Or maybe it was, and we achieved our goal, but didn’t know what to do next.
“What’s next?” That’s the unanswered piece and the reason why I believe the pursuit of happiness doesn’t have a finish line. I want to teach my kids that of course it’s important to pursue goals that interest them for the sake of their well-being. After all, most of us would agree that anticipation — the “chase,” if you will — is the most heady part of an experience.
But the law of diminishing returns applies to achieving a goal as well. Once we receive those coveted toys, the sparkle starts to fade, and happiness depreciates. Being happy, or at least, being engaged, fulfilled and well, involves realizing that we should be prepared to have a series of aims and campaigns lined up to keep us happily motivated and moving forward. This goes for kids, too. With TV, video games and toys at the ready, there is less waiting and anticipation in this generation and more ennui, indicating that perhaps goals and projects could help.
I believe a purpose-driven life doesn’t stop when you land your dream job, amass a certain level of security or take an anticipated trip. It’s about always having something to work toward, and being free to change up the focus of our efforts to make them rich and fulfilling. This is already built into a lot of our kids via the school system. There are periods of work, broken up by periods of time deemed “more desirable,” whether your child finds math, recess, art or English the break that fills up their cup.
There is attaining one level and moving on to the next, with new subjects, material and goals. But things get blurrier away from that set schedule of goals and resets. Maybe, as parents and adults, we get a bit more hung up on thinking that a certain lifestyle or status will bring about blissful happiness when I believe we may be more fulfilled when we are anchored in purpose.
What makes you happy? For Susan Goldberg, there is value in leading kids to find their own magic. Read that here.
We’ve probably all heard that retired people are at risk of aging quickly or not thriving without the goals and structure of a job. Many older people who thrive do so because they have found wellness through having purpose. Maybe they volunteer or garden when they aren't engaging in a rich social life. They are not looking to pin their happiness on attaining one thing and trying to stay in a state of happiness without continuing to find purpose and meaning. It's certainly something worth replicating.
So, what's the secret to happiness? Probably both more and less than what most of us think. An ongoing journey, with goals and a focus on well-being are, to me, very much part of it.
And, like Silverstein’s circle, knowing when it’s time to get out of a comfort zone, carefully lay down that “perfect piece,” and start the quest once more.
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