- Happiness Trap: If two people are really supposed to be together, their relationship should be easy. Having to work hard in a relationship is a sign of incompatibility. When this happens, I am unhappy.
- Or: Relationships, by their very nature, require effort. Working hard at a relationship is a worthwhile endeavor and an effective way to create connection and fulfillment. This work makes me feel content.
- Happiness Trap: My partner and I have been together for years now; I shouldn’t have to ask for what I want — they should know that by now. If my partner isn’t meeting my needs, it’s because they don’t care enough to put forth the effort. When this happens, I am unhappy.
- Or: The best way to get what you want and need from a partner is to ask for it, clearly and kindly. You will need to do this forever. Moments when your partner meets an unspoken need are fantastic and should be enjoyed when they occur, but this should not be your expectation. Ask for what you want and give your partner an opportunity to come through for you; also, do your best to listen for and meet your partners needs whenever possible. When done well, this reciprocity will result in fulfillment, even if every moment is not characterized by happiness.
- Happiness Trap: My partner and I have different preferences for balancing time together and apart. One of us is overwhelmed by the other’s desire to be together so much, and the other is hurt by the first one’s need for space. This creates constant tension and bad feelings between us, and neither of us feel heard or respected with regard to our needs. When this happens, I am unhappy.
- Or: It is normal for two people in a relationship to have different preferences for balancing time together and apart. We can see the value in both, and are wiling to be flexible and collaborative in constructing a way of managing our time in which both partner’s needs are prioritized. I am willing to learn not to take it personally when my partner’s individual needs are different from my own, and understand that this is not a sign of incompatibility. I find joy and contentment in both individual and together time with my partner, as well as from other relationships in my life.
Do you see where I’m going? Not every moment is going to be happy. Lots of our time and mental bandwidth are occupied by real effort in nurturing the relationships and structure that we’ve chosen in life, and our effort is the single biggest predictor of whether or not those are a source of contentment and joy. We make a choice to be dragged down by that effort, or to be enriched by it. We decide which perspective colors our experience.
So what’s my challenge for you? Change your focus. Instead of making it your goal to be happy all (or most) of the time, can you focus on finding contentment? Contentment is more complex than happiness, but it’s also more profound and lasting. Contentment includes some happiness, but it also includes overcoming struggles, finding meaning, working hard for things you value, succeeding in your chosen and assigned roles, and working through difficult emotions like sadness and fear. It’s fully immersing yourself in the richness and complexity of life. It allows you to feel good, even in moments when you’re not happy. And maybe, it’s a way out of the Happiness Trap.