Happiness Changes as We Change
You know that your happiness changes as you change, but you probably don’t think about happiness that way.
It’s easy to understand that the act of walking no longer gives you the same exuberance it did when you took your first steps. But imagine how happy you’d be if you valued every step with even half of the enthusiasm that you did when you took your first steps.
Age, experience, and unexpected events are usually the catalysts that redefine what makes you happy.
My mom and I had a big argument when I visited her one weekend shortly after she and my dad divorced. She’d moved about an hour away from where I lived, and worked a part-time job at the VFW Hall. She was working the night I arrived and wanted me to go with her.
In hindsight, it was a simple request. Her only motive was that she wanted her friends to meet the daughter she talked about so often. But to me, in the wisdom of my early twenties, it was an evening in a smoke-filled room with old people. In my mid-twenties mind, anyone over thirty was old, and I’m allergic to smoke. Also, I never won playing bingo, so needless to say, I wasn’t stoked about Bingo Night.
I tried to explain to her that I didn’t have anything in common with anyone there, and that they didn’t have anything in common with me either. I didn’t see that as a bad thing, just a truthful observation. She felt I was being pretentious. We compromised and I went for an hour or so, but I just went through the motions to appease her instead of embracing the experience.
If I had the opportunity to go to that same bingo night with my mom now, I would happily do it in a heartbeat. I’d cherish spending time with her, because now that’s no longer an option.
I’d also happily take extra allergy medicine, sit at the bar, order a drink, and talk to the vets about their experiences. At my current age, I’d appreciate the opportunity to learn, to hear the stories of the men and women who’d fought and served our country in a way that I didn’t at that particular moment in time.
Wisdom and experience change your perspectives, which in turn changes what makes you happy.
Sometimes aging redefines you and your happiness, like:
- When you realize you didn’t value your skinny years, until you’d be so happy to weigh that again
- You move slower, so your happiness is measured in getting where you want to be, instead of how fast you get there
- Your eyes change, so you need readers to read, so you nostalgically remember reading without them
Sometimes circumstances change what makes you happy. One of my favorite books, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, is about a professor’s last teachings after he was diagnosed with ALS.
One of the passages from that story beautifully describes how circumstances can change your happiness measuring stick:
“Mitch,” Morrie said, laughing along, “Even I don’t know what ‘spiritual development’ really means. But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.”
He nodded toward the window with the sunshine streaming in. “You see that? You can go out there, outside, anytime. You can run up and down the block and go crazy. I can’t go out. I can’t run. I can’t be out there without fear of getting sick. But you know what? I appreciate that window more than you do.”
“Yes, I look out that window every day. I notice the change in the trees, how strong the wind is blowing. It’s as if I can see time actually passing through that windowpane. Because I know my time is almost done, I am drawn to nature like I’m seeing it for the first time.”
Sometimes your circumstances change in ways that you wish they hadn’t, forcing you to redefine what makes you happy or sit in misery.
Furthermore, your idea of happiness can change even when you don’t expect it to—and even when you change your circumstances on purpose. This happens when:
- You graduate college and start a career
- You get a dog, and are now responsible for his potty training, feeding, walking, and behavior
- You get married and share in decisions about everything from decorating to meal times to retirement planning
- You have kids who change the very purpose of your life
- You become empty nesters, leaving a void that must be filled
Life is full of change. Some changes are wanted and planned for, others are brought courtesy of Mother Nature, and a few surprise you.
Whatever the source of your changes, they create a choice: resist or embrace them. If you choose to embrace your changes, you can find new happy experiences to replace the ones that you’ve lost.
The Four Practical Happiness Principles
- Happiness Zappers Zap Everyone
- Happiness is Personal
- Happiness Changes as We Change
- Happiness is Bigger Than You Think