in Career Advice, Personal

Stop Asking “Am I Happy?”, That’s Not How it Works


I’ve always had this vague idea in my head that happiness is this point in life that I can reach.

If I work hard enough, make lots of friends, make money, travel, check off all the boxes…then I’ll be a “happy person”.

Other people seem to think the same way because I’ve been asked many times “Are you happy?”. I always struggle to answer them. Happiness just doesn’t seem to work that way. I start thinking…

  1. It’s not that black and white. There’s a spectrum of happiness
  2. What is happiness? Is it excitement? Is it being motivated? Is it laughing? Is it finding meaning?
  3. In this moment, I can be happy about some things and unhappy about others. I can be happy with my life in general, but unhappy about the gum I stepped on that day.

What I realized is that I don’t think happiness, however you define it, is a point in life that you can reach. There’s no one in life who’s achieved level 5 happiness and now they’re just happy all the time. Even the ones who seem to have it all, or always seem positive…they aren’t always happy.

Actually, if I was happy all the time that might not be so great. The moments of sadness in life are tough, but they make the moments of happiness that much better. There’s a spectrum of human emotion and happiness isn’t the only one that’s okay to have. You’re not broken if you’re not happy.

Whenever I feel stressed, angry or sad I try to accept it. They’re normal human emotions. Life is a crazy adventure and your emotions will ebb and flow with it.

So instead of thinking about how much I hate being stressed, I think about why I’m stressed and realize that given the situation this is a perfectly normal reaction.

And instead of asking myself, “Am I happy?” I try to ask myself things like…

  • Why am I doing what I’m doing?
  • Am I proud of what I’m doing?
  • Who do I want to be and am I working toward that goal?

Happiness isn’t a phase in life you can reach. Happiness is in the moment. And when it’s not there, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It just means you’re human.

Thanks to Mike Hrostoski for inspiring the post.

Photo cred: Angelo González

  • DavidSpinks

    JimConnolly thanks Jim!

    • JimConnolly

      DavidSpinks It’s a very interesting post. None of us have ‘fixed’ emotions. No one’s always happy, with the possible exception of Pharrell

      • DavidSpinks

        JimConnolly which makes sense (=

  • awolfson0

    Excellent post, David! I completely agree with you, and I think this is one of many faulty perceptions surrounding the idea of happiness.

    Here’s a post I really like about the “language problem” of happiness:

  • ShannnonB

    DavidSpinks I’d be cool with being content…for once.

    • DavidSpinks

      ShannnonB does content = happy?

      • ShannnonB

        DavidSpinks for some maybe. I think people have similar ideals for both. Wonder if your theory (agree!) should be applied to being content.

  • DavidSpinks

    john_schu thanks for sharing John

  • Talita Rochetti

    Congrats on your post! I see it’s common to have this dramatic idea of happiness instead of trying ‘being human’ every day.

  • Lev

    I just love this post! It’s short, it’s right to the point  and without arrogant BS. And I really like your perspective on the “permanent happiness state”.