Once upon a time, I was given a three page, double-sided, two column list of “feeling words”. The professor who provided the list said clients would be able to express their emotions better if they had more words.
To be honest, I’ve never had a client tell me they feel obtuse. Or extemporaneous. Or flatulent. (I’m kinda glad about that one).
I generally hear people talk about one basic feeling. Clients generally say they want to be happy. We often do our work in therapy to help people make healthy choices so that they can be happy.
Over nearly two decades of ministry and counseling, I have seen people make three choices to try and increase their level of happiness. To be honest, I have never seen any of these three choices lead to happiness. You may be surprised why.
Happiness Unicorn 1: Get Married
Whoa, what’s wrong with getting married? Absolutely nothing. Unless you’re using marriage to bring happiness into an unhealthy relationship.
In many cases, I have seen people who have an unhealthy dating relationship decide to get married. Without fixing their relationship problems.
But once they get married, what has changed in their relationship?
Nothing. It’s still unhealthy.
Trust me, marriage is tough. Getting married causes more relationship stress; not less. If a relationship is unhealthy before marriage, it will only get more unhealthy after the wedding.
Happiness Unicorn 2: Have Kids
Much like the first choice, there is nothing wrong with having kids. My wife and I have four. They are awesome, amazing, and wonderful.
Until they are not.
There are many times when people have a child hoping that parenthood will fix their relationship. Somewhere along the way they have a belief that parenting will increase responsible behavior and family bonds. Much like marriage, if a relationship is unhealthy and unhappy, having a kid will make it worse.
If you doubt me, try this experiment. Before having kids, have someone move into your house for a month. Have them wake you up at random times throughout the night with a blood-curdling scream. Then have them demand food and snuggle time. Have that person go with you all the time. Oh, and they should probably fling bodily fluids on you.
Yeah, that’s kind of what its like to have a kid. Do that for a month straight and see what it does to your overall happiness.
Happiness Unicorn 3: Move Out
On a regular basis, I hear high school students say “I can’t wait until I move out!” Usually, a bold declaration about the greatness of adulthood follows.
While it is true that moving out is an important step to becoming an adult, the rest of us know how much stress growing up causes. Once we move out, we have bills, deadlines, jobs, insurance premiums, groceries, repairs, and every other adult thing to worry about.
Discovering Real Happiness
Moving out, getting married, and having kids are great. The question, however, is how can we find happiness in each of them?
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor said that
“Happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue.”
Simply put our happiness follows something else. For us to be happy when we move out, get married or have kids, we have to take another step first. We have to do the hard work of removing the obstacles to our happiness. We have to make the changes internally so that we can be healthy externally.
Not sure what to do next? Why don’t you grab half an hour with me and see if we can get you pointed in the right direction?
Join the conversation below: What other Happiness Unicorns have you seen?