From His Perspective: Fear & Happiness

This sounds silly, being afraid of happiness, but I think there are a lot of out there who are. Certainly there are varying degrees of this fear, but I wanted to put my two cents in on this topic.  A recent string of arguments between Erin and I have had this central theme. We all know that Erin is a perfectionist and strives to provide the “perfect” life for us. This alone puts a tremendous amount of strain and pressure on her and when things aren’t going as she envisions, it is harder for her to feel happy. I think this is pretty common among perfectionists.

However, there is another factor contributing to her not being as happy as she ought to be. Fear. Fear of being disappointed (or disappointing). Fear that the happiness is temporary and that the let down when it ultimately goes away is too much to bear. She is safer by not allowing herself to feel that happiness, because the disappointment when it goes away is devastating. It is better to not have loved at all.

I have not been too helpful on this front. Over the past few years I have either been in a start-up company or in a position where I wasn’t really satisfied. Neither provided a tremendous amount of stability, a key to Erin being able to let her happiness flourish. So now that I am in a new job the relief she feels about my employment is fleeting. She cannot allow herself to feel happy about it because she does not yet trust it. Understandably.

Here’s the thing though. Life is bumpy. For everyone. Even for CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies (perhaps especially for them). There are going be times you are happy and they won’t last. There are times you are going to be sad and they won’t last either. Think about the times when you have been elated to be who you are. I can think of lots of times; sitting on a beach, on the Seine with Erin watching the Eiffel tower light up, when we first got Baxter, and then again with Oliver, when we got married, our honeymoon, meeting Erin, graduating from college, getting my new job, a glass of wine watching the sunset at the ranch, and I can go on.   At every one of those moments I was as happy as I could be even though I knew it couldn’t last.

Those are some of the easy moments. The trick is to realize you have that skill and apply it more often. Learn to love the smaller moments. They happen all the time. Accept that there are some rough roads ahead, but there are some smooth spots as well. Grab some happiness while you can.

What is the difference if Erin feels safe and happy with my new job now or a year from now? A year of happiness that has been dampened by something she cannot control anyway. This is what people mean when they say you have to choose happiness (and has its roots in the phrase “shit happens”).

This is just another example of life is all in how you approach it. You get to choose. There are going to be times in life when things aren’t perfect (a little secret…those can be happy times too if you really master this skill). But when things are going well jump right in and soak it up as much as you can. It helps you get through the bumpy times and makes life a whole lot easier and enjoyable.

19 Responses to “From His Perspective: Fear & Happiness”

  1. Living in the moment can be so difficult yet so important, we all need to appreciate success, special moments & good times as they come to us because in life everything that is good always goes by too fast! You are lucky to have each other to help celebrate all of the happy times :)

  2. Emily says:

    love this – it reminds me of this (one of my very favorites): http://momastery.com/blog/2012/01/04/2011-lesson-2-dont-carpe-diem/

  3. Nicole says:

    Ironic I’m reading this sitting on the front porch eating a Popsicle while my boys play in the grass. I never take the time to say to myself “I am so happy right now”.
    So I’m turning off the iPhone and am going to play Ninjas with them (for the 5 min before one hurts the other and the screaming starts… )

  4. I always love Andrew’s perspective. You’re very, very wise, sir.

    I too subscribe to this philosophy. Growing up, my mother was constantly reminding me to have a positive attitude, even when life sucks. In many situations, your attitude is the only thing you can control. Not to shamelessly plug my own blog, but my blog’s name and my own personal philosophy is ‘happiness is between your ears.’ Sometimes, yes being happy is about a moment or a trip, but it’s also very often just a fleeting thought in your head. Because your ability to be happy is between your ears, it’s on your terms whether you feel happy all the time or never at all. That’s not to say that sadness or fear don’t have their place too, but I often get caught up in thinking that there’s some certain place or some certain event that will make me happy, and it’s important to just sit back and realize that you can be enjoy the journey as much as you enjoy that distant goal.

    I’m not sure if that made any sense — perhaps I was just rambling. But, thanks for another installment of From His Perspective!

  5. Kate says:

    Andrew,

    Your posts are always insightful, and a great addition to Erin’s own essays on top of the regular features of her wonderful blog. I tend to be more like Erin, I think, but I’m learning to let my perspective evolve, and have a conscious stake in my own happiness. My stubbornness certainly helps, when I decide to be a “determined optimist”, and so does savouring the little things. Appreciating the streetlights hit the new leaves on the trees at night, or reveling in something that makes me laugh can go a long way towards reminding me that it’s not so bad afterall, really. My biggest fear (you know, aside from weird and grotesque things happening to eyeballs or being unprepared for public speaking…) is unhappiness. And while sometimes I think there’s something mature and wise in that – forgive me while I remember Dumbledore appraising Harry Potter’s fear of fear itself being more sensible than a fear of Voldemort – I think that instead of it being empowering, it’s often my own undoing. Instead of being an incentive to go out and take on all the things that have the potential to make me happy, my fear of unhappiness is paralysing, and can prevent me from doing anything at all, which, let’s be honest, only guarantees my unhappiness. Like Erin, I’m trying to learn to trust my happiness, because the experience is a more positive one than the anxiety that it won’t last. I’m learning to let go.

    Kate

  6. ana antunes says:

    You two must be the coolest, most balanced couple I’ve heard (or read). There must be storms but know how to get thru. She is an amazing woman who was blessed to find an amazing and supportive man. Your optimism must be like medicine to her, her fears like a drug to you.

  7. Erin says:

    My name is Erin, and if I hadn’t known you were talking about your other half, I would swear you were talking about me. I’m a perfectionist to the core and, like Erin, finding myself afraid of happiness. Thank you so much for your valuable insight and writing it in such a tender, understanding way. She is truly a lucky woman to have you!

  8. Erin, he’s a keeper- but I’m sure you already know that! :)

  9. I love this post! I am all with you on the happiness perspective and attitude. But I have worked reeeally hard to get those insights and inner strength and happiness. I couldn’t live without that today. But I wonder why it often seems these attitudes comes more natural and easy for men? I know many, including my own husband. Where do they program this in you? With two sons and one daugther, of course I think about this…

  10. Really really liked this post. And can understand completely. I wish my husband could find the “space” to live in the moment and relish the happiness however fleeting it is.

  11. Lorna says:

    Very wise words indeed.
    On a related note, I find it’s important not to let the life you “think” you should be having, get in the way of enjoying the life you actually lead.
    I’ve found out the hard way that it’s less stressful and more fun to enjoy the ride, wherever it might take you, than fret that it’s not the life/house/job you imagined/pinterested it would be.

  12. [...] read this post this morning, as well as the recent string of Things I’m Afraid to Tell You posts on many [...]

  13. Tara says:

    I have really been thinking a lot about this lately. I feel that I always have a whole list of to-do’s in my head and want everything a certain way (yes, a perfectionist), but there’s never enough time to do it all. I think my husband is often baffled by this and tells me I try to do too much. So I can relate to Erin on that for sure! However, I do agree whole-heartedly with you that the more you focus on the positive and try to appreciate the great little moments in life, the happier you will be. I do know some people that will always focus on one negative thing and not let it go. Say if a great weekend trip occurred and overall everyone enjoyed themselves, except for one moment where things didn’t go right, they would focus on that moment and would have preferred to just not have gone on the trip. That drives me crazy as I’d prefer to focus on the overall good and appreciate the time spent together. I’ve been reading the book The Happiness Project and have been focusing on “happiness” quite a bit lately. I honestly overall can say I have been feeling more at peace with just life on a daily basis. It’s a struggle for sure, but I think you are so right. It’s a skill worth focusing on!! I also love the quote “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not ok, then it’s not the end.” So true!

  14. Charleigh says:

    This is me to a core. Not because I am a perfectionist though, just I think I fear that happiness is too fleeting. After losing important people in my life, it has made it much harder to let anyone in. Why put myself through the chance they will leave again? I’m learning a balance however, a little bit here, a little bit there, and trying to just enjoy the personal moments that are not shared because those are the ones that cannot be taken away. A warm summers night on my porch watching fireflies, listening to thunder and the sky lighting up in the distance. These too I feel are what moments are made of.

    Erin — I am happy that you clicked on his profile too. You have found your partner, support, friend, and confidant as you too learn to find happiness. Maybe one day I’ll find myself able to be there too. I guess we all have different paths to getting there.

  15. One day I was invited to join a group of moms for a gathering just after we sent our kids off on the first day of school that year. I had never been to this woman’s house before, and was appalled at the way it looked when she was having company over. All surfaces were super-dusty, things weren’t all that picked up. When I have anyone over, especially people coming over for the first time, I’m tidying up all through the house and doing a major cleaning. It bothered me that her house looked the way it did, but it didn’t bother her at all. I think that’s what bothered me the most, actually. Later, I realized that she’s a happy-go-lucky person who just rolls with the punches and has a good time doing it. On the other hand, I get so stressed that everything has to be “just right” that I can’t relax and enjoy things. I appreciate the lesson she taught me that day and try to keep it mind. I said TRY. :)

  16. lauren says:

    hi you two!

    Thanks so much for the posts (both design/fash/lifestyle & philosophy of life :)

    Just yesterday my boyfriend and I were chatting about happiness, the fleeting (and often misleading) nature of emotions, and how to cultivate presence, so I thought I’d share a bit of what we discussed:

    A wonderful psychologist named Cloe Madanes taught me (a life/biz coach & recovering perfectionist!) that often my conditions for happiness were so tough to meet it was no wonder I felt dissatisfied.

    For example, I made my conditions for contentment $xxxxxx in the bank, a beautiful home, a thriving multi-six figure business, fabulous clothes, the ardent attention of a cassanova-type man, and epic vacations. Now, all of that is great, but all of it is sometimes hard to come by, never mind on a daily basis.

    But when I realized that I could re-jigger my conditions, things began to shift.

    Now my conditions are closer to: not using an alarm in the morning to wake up, glitter on my nails, really good tea, a long lunch with a friend, walking around the park, a meditative service at church, visiting my grandmother, a hug from my boyfriend.

    It’s SO much easier to be happy now that I’ve changed my conditions. As a result, some of those things I thought I always wanted have become not so important while others have naturally happened without as much effort/strain/stress.

    Whenever I have spent a little more time in “the funk” than I want, I look at what my condition is for being happy. Then I say, “What’s something I can do today to feel happy? Right now, even?”

    Then I make my gratitude list, satisfy an easy condition (hugs are my fave) and get on with it.

    Thank you both for your vulnerability- it helps so many others :)

  17. Thank you Andrew! I am having a terribly bad mood day and this just gave me a little perspective and dare I say “joy”! I’m one of those “never satisfied”, “what’s on the horizon” type of people. Sometimes I so busy “doing” I forget to enjoy the moment. So, thanks for the reminder! You and Erin are lucky to have each other.

    Ciao,
    Dee

  18. Chris says:

    Um. Andrew. Can I clone you?

  19. snooze says:

    A great post Anroo. I could definitely chage the way I look at some things. Thanks for your warm hospitality and monitoring my nose plant.