Happiness First, Then Everything Else

August 12th, 2012 by Steve Pavlina

If you accept a job, a relationship, or a lifestyle that you merely tolerate — but don’t appreciate — you’re putting other concerns ahead of your own happiness.

Social conditioning may have convinced you that sacrificing your happiness to maintain a certain bank balance, to send timely payments to corporations to which you’re indebted, or to pay for someone else’s needs and expenses is the proper way to live. Perhaps your parents played a role in this conditioning as well, teaching you the importance of being responsible and holding down stable employment.

If you do these things well, then according to this conditioning, you are successful. You’re doing what’s expected of you, and no one could fault you for that.

But sooner or later you’ll come to realize that successfully paying the bills and satisfying other people’s needs, while depriving yourself of a happy life you’re truly passionate about, is no success at all. In fact, it is complete and utter failure.

If you’ve found yourself in this situation, then you’ve terribly misunderstood the game of life.

While you may have been convinced that these duties are important, the truth is that they’re of no particular importance to people with high self-esteem and a positive sense of self-worth. Such people do not care how much money you make, what kind of provider you are, or how long you’ve been married to the same person. They’re much more curious about something else: how you feel about yourself and the path you’re walking.

I have many friends who earn very little money, can’t or won’t hold down stable jobs, and have constantly churning relationship lives. And yet, if they are happy with themselves, I typically find them fascinating and valuable people to have in my life.

I also have friends who’ve been blessed by tremendous financial success, with brilliant, decades-spanning careers and deeply loving, committed relationships. If they too are happy with themselves, I find them just as fascinating and rewarding to connect with.

When, however, I connect with people who are responsibly doing their duty, but who haven’t yet cultivated a life of happiness, I can’t help but notice the sallow desperation in their eyes, the numbness with which they speak, and the damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-don’t game of self-deception they play each day. They feel trapped and lost to the point where they label feelings like depression and frustration with words like “fine” and “okay.”

If you find yourself in such a situation, there is a way out, and it begins with finally acknowledging the truth to yourself and diving into the dark places where you think it may lead. Accept your situation as it is, and most importantly, accept how you feel about it. The reality is that the darkness you fear is really nothing to fear at all. Yes, you may face some challenges, but that is how you’ll grow.

Do you love and appreciate your work? Do you love and appreciate your relationships? Do you love and appreciate your lifestyle? What is the truth?

You cannot get unstuck so long as you remain in perpetual denial. No external rescue will appear. But there is indeed a path to freedom, and it lies on the other side of denial and self-deception — on the side of truth and acceptance.

What does happiness look like? Happiness is waking up feeling optimistic and expectant about the day you get to live. Happiness makes it hard to stay in bed once you awaken. A rich day full of new experiences and creative expression awaits you. It is an exciting thing to behold. Happiness is the stillness that exists within energy and movement.

When you are happy, you can still pay your bills on time, but you’ll make better choices about what bills are worth incurring. Some of your current bills and expenses might never have been created, had you been living a happy and inspired life to begin with.

When you are happy, you can still support others if you wish, but this will be done because you truly want to do it, not because you feel obligated to do so.

When you are happy, you can still enjoy a stable career, but you’ll produce significantly more value in less time because happiness inspires creativity and action, and creative action is a wellspring of opportunity — a wellspring which can, if so desired, produce abundant income for you.

Rest assured, your world will not explode simply because you’ve decided to make your own happiness a real priority. More likely, the response from the universe will be akin to a sighing, What took you so long?

When I’ve made decisions that were aligned with my own happiness first, I’ve heard the occasional (sometimes frequent) outcries of those objecting to my choices, but these objections invariably came from those who weren’t happy with their own choices. My decision was a painful reminder of that, and hence I can understand, empathize with, and forgive the momentary insanity on their part — the insanity which presumes that their wallowing in unhappiness could possibly persuade me to join them under any circumstances.

But far worse than the vocal objections of others are the simulated objections that exist only within your mind — the simulated fear of disapproval.

In all honesty which is more important to you: the approval of others, or your own happiness?

If you aren’t happy, you don’t approve of yourself, and hence no one of consequence can approve of you anyway. They will recognize plain as day that your priorities have produced a dismal and wretched failure of a life. If you place approval above your own happiness, you ultimately end up with neither. You’ll be unhappy, and you cannot expect anyone to truly approve of you for that. Whatever approval you do receive will be as fake as the contentment you pretend to harbor.

The approval of others is inconsequential, but if you successfully create a happy life for yourself, you will have your own self-approval, and that is worth something. This self-approval will in turn appear to unlock the approval mechanisms of the universe itself, and it will flood your reality with plenty of validating evidence. When your happiness becomes a true priority, you’ll soon notice a conspiracy of ridiculous abundance, including happy relationships with other happy and attractive people, strong motivation to express yourself creatively, and a lifestyle that yanks you out of bed with a “Wow!”


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