situational happiness

Over the past few weeks I’ve had more highs and lows than I’d like to admit. Sure, I changed my birth control the same day that we moved. So part of me would like to blame the hormonal changes just a little bit. But I don’t think that’s really the case, or at least not the whole problem by a long shot.

And it’s true that we have been continuously on the go for several months now and have yet to have a normal weekend in the new home (Mr. Lively hasn’t even spent a weekend here at all yet). So there is a true need for relaxing and normalcy. We’ve been in a stretch zone for what seems like a long, long time.

On the other hand, I expected myself to be overjoyed and singing like those little birds in Cinderella. I am in the process of creating a full-time career based on my purpose of helping people design lives with intention. I’m living in a gorgeous apartment which is getting more complete and beautiful by the day. I’ve got a sweet, patient, funny husband who loves me despite the dozen emotional outbursts I’ve had over the past month. I’ve got a sweet puppy coming home in just a few weeks.

I have “the recipe” for happiness that I created… intentionally.

But when it comes to day-to-day happiness and fulfillment, I’ve remained constant or maybe even a bit less happy.

Am I happy with my life overall? Absolutely. 100%. Without a doubt. 

But that overarching happiness is not directly correlating to emotional stability, peace, and joy in my moods, emotions, and daily life at all times.

Heck, I got my new drivers license last week and when they messed up and didn’t change my last name on the card (which I noticed twenty minutes later in the food court). I came back to find myself in a waiting room filled with thirty people waiting to get their photos taken and I almost came to tears at the thought of having to wait in the line again.

I think I’ve stacked a lot of expectation about my day-to-day happiness on my overall situation. If I have designed the life I want with intention, I should live happily ever after.




My experience these past three weeks has taught me no. And so has research on happiness itself. In the Pursuit of Perfection they speak of research that shows people have a natural set-point of happiness. Which means events like winning the lottery (good) or losing a limb (bad) only affect happiness levels for a few months. Over time, people naturally return back to their normal set-point of happiness.

For me, especially lately, I think my unconscious expectation that life would be flawless now that I’ve designed it with intention has actually hindered my happiness set-point. And only by breaking free of that expectation will I allow myself to resume my more positive outlook and have any room for happiness growth in the future.

I now understand firsthand that it is not our overall life intentions that “make” us happy (though detrimental habits, addictions, or fears can probably make us unhappy) day-to-day. Our reactions to the frustrations, flaws, and bumps in the road of life are within our control no matter where we are on our intentional life scale. And in my case, I need to unhitch the idea that my intentional life decisions will relate to my patience and peace at the DMV.

I will continually be responsible for my reactions to life – my overall life satisfaction is not a blanket of happiness that covers everything all the time.

Sharing this here with you has helped me take a metaphorical and physical sigh of relief. The friction that has been building between me and my happiness is starting to melt. Perhaps I just needed to admit that I made a sub-conscious mistake and my expectations were misplaced.

Come to think of it, just from sharing this understanding I’m feeling better already.


PS – Business in the City is tonight!

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  1. Linda

    Have you read Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project?”

    I picked it up a few weeks ago and am slowly making my way through it. I think you’d like it – she’s done all sorts of research on what makes us really happy and trying to change to be happier. She’s funny, too!

  2. Jess

    Linda, I have the book and read a few chapters but put it down a long time ago. I came across it last week and put it on my nightstand to read though!

  3. It’s like you’re saying everything I’ve gone through. You’re writing about me, right?! And you’re not required to be happy all the time. That’s the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a feeling, an overall emotion, one that comes and goes. Joy is a completeness we get in life – one that stays with us when we have crises and heartbreak, or even when we just feel sad. You clearly have joy in life, you just have to take time to re-find that happiness, and that’s ok.

  4. Jacki

    It’s really easy to misplace our expectations of happiness in this way. I definitely do it, and quickly get frustrated with myself and my life. Like you, I need to intentionally choose to take responsibility for my happiness and my reactions in life!

  5. SEM

    Well said. Addressing unconscious expectations is really important. Great outlook on happiness…it’s a big picture thing, not a thing contingent on isolated events.

  6. Bethany

    I had a bishop tell me once that true happiness means being happy even when you’re sad. It didn’t make sense to me at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I can be unhappy about a situation, but still be a happy person overall. I think if more people realized that happiness is a choice, the world would be a better place!!

  7. Honestly, the older I get, the more I truly believe that happiness is sometimes a DECISION. There are many things everyday that will test you, and try to throw you off course, but you must CHOOSE that you will not let those things bother you. Easier said than done sometimes though!!! Good luck with everything…you have lots to be happy for!

  8. Marguerite

    It actually sounds like you might need a little spontaneous fun. I understand your intentions, and commend you for following them. But….maybe just do something a bit crazy to shake up your mood?

  9. I gave this speech on happiness at my school a few weeks ago.

    I think what I would share with you is this, “Okay, now this is important: I understand that you are going to have bad days. I have them, too. It is okay to be sad or unhappy sometimes. It is okay to love your life and still feel like crap on occasion but it is not okay with me if you spend every day of your four years here focusing on the bad. I happen to know you did not have the worst day ever because you are here. “

  10. Just some uplift for your day. Also, if you watch the youtube videos you can see what all 300 of my girls say makes them happy.

  11. Audrey

    The statement “I will continually be responsible for my reactions to life…” reminded me of the book Bright Side Up by Amy Spencer. It describes 100 ways to do just that 🙂 quick and easy read too! Thanks for sharing your day to day reactions to an intentional life.

  12. Jess, I love this post. It is so true and I can more than relate. I often confuse day to day happiness to my overarching expectation of happiness. Thank you for sharing this personal struggle. It really hits home, but I just wasn’t able to put it into words like you did. Now I get it!!!

    xx Jen

  13. Just going to say… I am in love with your blog and everything you post. I can’t remember which blog I found you linked on, but SO glad I found you. One of my favorite reads for sure!

  14. I’m so glad you posted this today. I just did a post about struggling to understand if I’ve chosen the right career and can really relate to your feelings. On the one hand I am completely gratefully and happy with my life, but day in and day out is a struggle to remain positive and optimistic.

    Two things have helped me that might help you too:
    1. Keep telling yourself “one step at a time”.
    2. Watch this video from Shawn Achor at TED. He talks about how we put happiness on the other-side of success, but with every new success we move the goal post.

  15. chelsea

    Amen, lady. Thank you for sharing this. I think sometimes we feel the need to hide our worries or gripes for fear of being labeled in a negative way. In reality – you’ve got to really embrace the downs and ups together. Much easier said than done – and sometimes it seems like it is a DAILY battle. Thank you for sharing this kind of post, in a world where everyone can seem like they’re loaded, happy, and totally pulled together – it’s nice to see some REALness.

  16. Kate

    This post totally resonates with me! I’m always evaluating my day-to-day happiness and feeling like I really have no reason to be in a funk, but it still happens. This makes so much sense! Thanks for sharing, as always 🙂

  17. This society’s seeming obsession with being happy and an individual’s ongoing need to assess the state of their personal happiness, although natural, is perhaps a limited way of viewing our lives. Using happiness as a barometer of/in lives just seems so self-defeating.

    Happy is a relative term and not necessarily even relevant for us to enjoy our lives on a daily basis. I know plenty of people who are leading healthy, intentional, aware and mindful lives who don’t even think about whether or not they are “happy.” They are joyful and grateful even as they face circumstances –big and small–beyond their control (chronic illness, unemployment, serious financial challenges on the big side to long lines, incompetent sales and customer service folks, on the “smaller” side for example.), which often find them fuming and fussing and discomforted in the moment. But they don’t get attached to those feelings (good or bad) and they don’t let them define their day or themselves.

    They also don’t fill their lives with the expectation of “how it should be.” It doesn’t mean they don’t have purpose, desire or intention. It’s just that they have learned to let go of how they wish it would be (and oh, that is so hard to do and keep doing!). They accept what is and embrace what they can do and control, and as you said, we are generally in charge of how we respond to what happens around us. We couldn’t have joy if there weren’t times when we were sad or depressed or truly uncomfortable with our own feelings and behavior–not to mention that of others.

    I remember years ago, while studying spirituality and mindful living, and implementing change in my life, coming across something that said one of the things that surprises folks who are enjoying the “high” of learning and looking at their lives differently and with more hope, is that they sometimes think the “good feelings” should never end. They are shocked when they realize that no matter how much better they feel overall about their lives and themselves, that stuff, often very small, inconsequential stuff (!) leaves them feeling blue, disappointed, angry or frustrated. As if one has a default setting of “happy” that one has come to expect when becoming more enlightened. But this isn’t how life works. There’s always something and we’re always learning and practicing how to embrace it, move through it and move on.

    This was a terrific post because it shares honest and mixed feelings about the many changes you are experiencing in your life. It reassures others who have felt the same way (you can be both extremely grateful for the gifts in your life and still feeling all sorts of other feelings at the same time).

    I loved when you wrote:
    “For me, especially lately, I think my unconscious expectation that life would be flawless now that I’ve designed it with intention has actually hindered my happiness set-point. And only by breaking free of that expectation will I allow myself to resume my more positive outlook and have any room for happiness growth in the future.”

    Letting go of labels and how it should be…that’s the key to enjoying life AS IT IS, regardless.

  18. Jess

    Thank you all so much for your beautiful comments and stories! I appreciate them all!

  19. You have to have a backup plan. Something that you can use when the minor setbacks in life are messing you around. For me it’s journaling or reaching out to the close friends I know will always listen to me. It’s having an outlet for the silly concerns that shouldn’t matter at all, but totally do matter and can throw it all off. And it sounds like this blog can be that outlet for you, which is fantastic. Just don’t forget to use it instead of wallowing in the low emotions.

  20. Rebecca

    Watch this TED talk by Daniel Kahneman: His whole story is about whether we’re happy in the here (“the experiencing self”) and now or just happy when we’re looking back (“the remembering self”). So interesting to think about when I’m making a big decision or reacting in a certain situation.

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