Can we be happy without feeling guilty?

Why does your happiness get judged, criticised or called selfish? What would happen if you allowed yourself to be happy – no strings attached? (pic courtesy of Miles

What would happen if you allowed yourself to be happy – no strings attached? (pic courtesy of Miles

As it’s the International Day of Happiness – a time for us all to reflect on what happiness means – I can say that the predominant aim of clients coming for private therapy is to feel happy. There is a lack in their lives, or a block, and if only that lack or block would move out the way – or, if other people in their lives would change – then they’d be happy. Yet very often that lack or block isn’t because of other people. It lies within.

I see it in clients who would love to do something creative – like write, draw, sing, dance, cook, paint, colouring in. Whatever makes them happy. Yet they say they’re “not creative” or “it won’t lead anywhere”. And so the potential happiness they could gain – from creating something unique that wouldn’t exist had they not created it – remains lost, unsaid, unwritten, unpainted, unsung.

People who yearn to feel happy can often feel selfish if ultimately they were to pursue their happiness – as if making themselves happy would be to the detriment of their personal relationships. It’s human nature to want to make other people happy. Of course it is. But it’s when other people’s happiness compromises your own chances of happiness that you have to ask why you don’t deserve your own share of happiness. Why compromise what brings you joy because you feel you shouldn’t, couldn’t or mustn’t? Why deny yourself the chance to feel happy because you haven’t allowed others to take their share first?

Sometimes the fear around happiness is as if it will be taken away. Better not to feel it at all than to have it and lose it. But happiness isn’t an object to be framed or stored in a box, to be taken out on a bad day. It’s a feeling to be indulged and enjoyed, to be lived in the moment. And to follow our happiness surely has to be our goal in life. Whatever that means for us personally. For some, happiness may be living on a canal boat and having few possessions. It may be owning abstract art, climbing mountains, running a business, having children, studying, cycling, playing piano, scoring goals, or enjoying Sunday lunch with friends. The form of happiness doesn’t matter. It’s the spirit in which we throw ourselves into it. It’s the permission we give ourselves to be happy. Without guilt.

So often the inner judge or critic kicks in the minute we feel happy. That voice can start yapping away in our ears, saying we don’t deserve this, or we shouldn’t be feeling happy. Who are you to feel happy? What kind of activity is this? What a waste of time. Get yourself back to something more meaningful. Get yourself back to serving others. You’re selfish for following your joy.

I’d like to say that this kind of thought pattern was rare, but unfortunately so much joy from our lives gets sucked up by the vacuum of guilt. It’s ingrained in us, and one of the ways to un-ingrain it is to start thinking differently. They say that for every one negative thoughts we need to think three positive ones. It’s often the other way round. But I wouldn’t put a number or judgement on any thoughts. They’re just thoughts.

Happiness is a feeling, not a thought. The thoughts may come in to strangle happiness, but really our purpose in life has to be to fulfil what our potential is, and to do what makes us happy? If that thought could be planted, even temporarily, in everyone contemplating happiness today, then I wonder how much guilt-free joy might evolve from it.

I’ll end with a quote which kind of sums up what I’ve been trying to say here:

“To be happy is not the purpose of our being. Rather, it is to deserve happiness.” 

Johann G. Fichte

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