Is Happiness Overrated?

Let me level-set this post by saying this: I am pro-happiness.

 (thanks to The Ghost for getting me on this pro-* kick)

I am one of the biggest fans in the whole wide world of being happy and all the wonderful things that are directly and indirectly associated with such a state of being.

But I wonder sometimes, is happiness overrated?

I don’t mean that on some deep philosophical level, either.  I mean in real, practical, feet-on-the-ground life, do we place too much value on happiness?  If I look at the world today we talk a good game about being happy and how important that is, but then we go back and live our lives in the mundane.  So in that sense I think it’s fair to say the way we treat it happiness is overrated.

Think about that for a minute.  Can you think back to a time in your life when you wanted to be happy but something stood in your way (or at least the perception was that something stood in your way)?  Maybe you wanted a real diamond ring instead of a cubic zirconia; or perhaps you wanted to spend an entire weekend playing Call of Duty but prior obligations intruded; or it could be you wanted to get in shape but couldn’t find a gym nearby.  Whether it’s a material thing, an experience thing or something else, I’m willing to bet each and every one of you can look back on your life and find at least one situation where you said/thought/indicated/whined about/etc. that you could be happy if ____________.  Heck – I can tell you I’ve thought that twice this week alone…and I know exactly where I’m going with this post (which is really not saying much positive about my thought line some days…).  You (effectively) said “it’s OK that I’m not happy”.

The first thing I think it’s important to recognize is this – if you’re not happy that’s a choice you make.  I don’t care if you’re filthy rich living on a topless beach in Brazil or if you can barely afford to feed and clothe your seven kids – happiness is still a choice you make.  OK, I’m off my soapbox for the moment, but don’t lose sight of that – you can decide whether you’re happy with what you have/do or not.

But let’s throw that first thing out the window and pretend it’s not legit for the time being.  Let’s say that the diamond ring, the marathon Call of Duty or the getting in shape will make you happy (vs. simply deciding to be happy with what you have).  So then the question becomes if you’ve identified what it takes to be happy…what’s the problem?  Why not just change your circumstances?

If replacing the cubic zirconia kicks you into the happy(er) realm then why not go get it?  If the answer is you don’t have enough money…can’t you make some more?  Get a part-time job?  Sell some of the stuff you’ve been collecting over the years?  Downsize your house a little?  If the answer is you don’t want to upset your spouse…can’t you talk about it?  What about positioning it as a surprise?  Or does it even matter?

Same thing with a weekend of nothing but video games; what’s the issue there?  Have to sleep?  Isn’t that what coffee, Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy are for?  Not enough money?  See the above paragraph.  Have prior commitments?  Just cancel them.  Oh, wait – you can’t cancel them?  Why not?  Because you already made a commitment to someone?  Renegotiate that commitment.  Afraid you’ll upset someone if you do that?  So what?  How much does that really matter to you?

And therein lies the rub.

Is the situation we place too much value on the act of being happy (and thus are unhappy when we can’t achieve it) or is it really that we don’t really know what it is that makes us happy?  Or, more appropriately, that when it comes to comparative decisions about which option in a choice makes us happier we often suck at truly evaluating it?

We think that playing CoD all night is the way to go and what would make us happy, but in reality while it would make us happy the simple fact is hanging out with our significant other shopping for purses and sun dresses actually makes us happier.  When you think of it that way it sounds so…


Could it be possible that I’d rather shop for a Vera Bradley than a new Proto 2012 Reflex Rail gun?  Does watching Magic Mike actually rank higher on my list of happiness things than checking out redheads on The Chive?   Is it possible that I’m actually happier with a cup of iced tea in hand staring at a pair of newborn’s bottles at a baby shower than with a Budweiser staring at pair of (something different) at a strip club for a bachelor party?

Sadly, yes.

At least that’s what your actions would tell you if those choices are where you spend your time.  They would tell you that you’re happiness lies in talking about spitting-up infants instead of silicone implants; watching Matthew McConaughey over Motivational Monday and shopping for purses instead of paintball guns.  That’s not really encouraging, is it?

(as an apologetic aside, I can only write this from the guy’s point of view because, frankly, I have man parts and as a direct biological result I am unable to understand – and hence effectively communicate – what makes women tick…so if you’re of the female gender please feel free to use your imagination as appropriate)

But there is hope once you recognize the trap you’re in because it all boils down to one thing, and one thing alone.


It’s not that you’d rather watch a man and a woman sentence themselves until death do them part than throw darts at the bar with your buddies – it’s that you’re afraid if you don’t go to the wedding with your girlfriend she’ll give you the cold shoulder for a few days (weeks/months/years).  Or call it quits with you.  Or maybe break into your apartment while you sleep and stab you to death.

You wouldn’t rather go into the office instead of calling in sick and starting the Oktoberfest weekend in Weston at 10am on a Friday – you’re just afraid that you’ll run into your co-worker/boss/dude-from-Accounting-that’s-got-a-vendetta-against-you-for-being-so-awesome and you’ll get fired.

And you certainly wouldn’t rather spend your days raising your stress level, blood pressure and Dexter mentality instead of writing a novel, fishing in a crystal clear lake or playing on the sand – you just have a deep-seated fear that you won’t be able to feed your kids, have a security blanket or that you’ll upset someone if you follow your dreams.

Give that a moment to sink in.  Does that sound right to you – that we do things that don’t make us happy(er) simply out of fear?  Sure, there are some of you out there who will open and honestly say “I’d rather do whatever my honey (or some other sickly-sweet nickname) is doing than watch the Crimson Tide stomp on the Mizz-ery Tigers on Saturday”.  Good for you; feel free to stop back by for the number to my psychiatrist because you clearly need her more than I do.

For the rest of you, though, tell me that doesn’t make sense.  Tell me that’s not the underlying cause of why you “can’t” go out and play your guitar with your buddies all night.  Or you “can’t” tell your boyfriend to stick the Raiders game somewhere inappropriate because you’re going to a bachelorette party.  Or you “can’t” tell the obnoxious co-worker that learning personal hygiene skills would probably be beneficial to his career path.

“Can’t” is – if you’ll pardon the language – a bullshit excuse.  You CAN.  The question isn’t whether or not you can do something, it’s what you’re willing to sacrifice to get it.

You can have a fulfilling job, but it might mean giving up the safety and security of the one you’ve got.

You can have an awesome relationship with the hot guy on the softball team, but that might means dumping your boyfriend of five years.

You can spend an entire weekend at a Magic tournament but that might mean skipping out on dinner with your family.

I’m not suggesting you do any of that.  Nor am I suggesting you don’t do any of that.  I can’t in good faith make those suggestions for you because I don’t know where your values lie.  And besides, if just asking someone else to make the right choice for you worked I’d have done that a long time ago instead of struggling with all the choices I’ve taken the comfortable road on instead of really evaluating what make me happy.

And I’d apologize for writing a 1600-word post, but I’m not going to lie – I needed to write it.  As the last sentence of that paragraph above and my post a few days ago mentions I’ve got a lot on my mind right now, and this is how I express a lot of it.  Not for your benefit, but for mine.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad you read it and I hope it’s entertaining/enlightening/amusing/thought-provoking/useful for you.  But when all is said and done these posts at The Paul Gillespie Experience are really just my cry for help…to myself.

And on that note, I’m going to go enjoy some quiet time with pizza, a beer and The Spycatcher (which is OK; not great but worth finishing).

(post image courtesy of

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