The Guilt of Feeling Happy and Mantras to Find Your Joy

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I am a steadfast habit tracker and goal seeker, always aspiring to do/see/feel/experience more. It’s the way I’m wired; I barely even think about this side of me, I just live into it. But while I’m constantly on the hunt for more, I recognize that I’ve got it pretty good. (I wouldn’t say I have it all, I think it’s crass. It’s also untrue.) I get to stay home with my children and soak up every little moment with them I can before they grow up and leave the metaphorical nest. I have a partner who works hard so I can stay home. We’re all in good health, and I get to use my brain in ways that fuel me creatively, getting paid to do something I love. As someone who has known her calling since she was young, this is deeply satisfying.

It’s all satisfying, it’s all providing me with many moments of joy—and yet I want more. Financial freedom, travel, success—I want it all. Enter my cognitive dissonance. Why do I want more when I already have so much? Does that make me greedy and ungrateful?

And then there are those who have less, for whom joy is something they must actively pursue, only to maybe, possibly, if they’re lucky, access it. I feel bad about it, like being so happy—happier than I’ve ever been (except for maybe that year I lived in Italy?)—is somehow not good. Can I celebrate this joy when so many in my orbit struggle to find it?

These questions run amuck in my head as I begin to plan out my next year. They make me question whether I can celebrate my happiness when I know so many others are in a continuous battle with their own. I’m aware it’s not my war to fight, and me being less happy isn’t going to provide others with more happiness. Joy isn’t a pie; my piece doesn’t get smaller when yours gets bigger. If anything, I’d say it’s the opposite; joy multiplies. It’s the antidote to the universal truth that hurt people hurt people.

Sometimes when I consider all that I’ve got, then think about what else I want, I feel a sense of guilt, like the simple act of desiring more makes me ungrateful for all that I have.

Even so, sometimes when I consider all that I’ve got, then think about what else I want, I feel a sense of guilt, like the simple act of desiring more makes me ungrateful for all that I have.

No more of this! It isn’t wrong to be happy. I am not better or worse than anyone else because I have a life in which I experience sincere joy daily. Empathy is a true gift to this world, but as I grapple with these thoughts while considering my own happiness and others’ lack of it, I realize how quickly empathy can turn to martyrdom—and that benefits exactly none of us.

It’s also not wrong to be ambitious and to want to achieve more. I need to clear up that nebulous dissonance because I see now that if I don’t keep working for more—if I get stuck in the mire of complacency—then my joy will slowly be siphoned away.

Maybe that desire is my joy.

It’s not a lack of gratitude, it’s not wishing I had it better; that drive is simply what brings me joy. And that is a marvelous realization.

I’ve come up with some mantras to help me navigate this cognitive dissonance, and I’m going to share them with you in case you need a reminder about the beautiful, transformative power of one of the simplest words in our language: and.

I can love my life and want more.

I can find joy in my children and want to spend time away from them.

I can be fulfilled and crave more professional satisfaction.

I can be content and want to create more.

I can love my people and want to be alone.

I can be mom and I can be me.

Parents, creators, humans who exist today—we are pulled in so many directions. We’re mom and we’re sister, employee and student. I may still be learning this, but I think it’s okay to be content—happy, even—in one or all of our titles, and still want more. And, importantly: it’s okay to feel joy in our work, our life, our relationships, when not everybody else does. What’s not okay is to dampen that joy because others don’t experience their own.

I can be happy and others can be sad.

And while that’s a painful truth, it is a truth nevertheless.

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