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Finding Your Pleasures


Although everyone seems to strive to be happy, not everyone knows what will generate that feeling for them. And until we know what brings us joy and satisfaction, we can’t pursue it—which means remaining unhappy. And round and round we go.

What seems a simple question to answer, “What makes me happy?”, is not. Once we get past defining the word, next comes recognizing when we feel it. On the road to happiness, we must also understand the forces that shape it, including family and culture. Let’s say your parents want you to become a lawyer and the law seems like a drag to you while nothing thrills you like ballet dancing. Or you grew up in a country club culture that insists feeling good comes from looking good, but what floats your boat is driving around the country in your ratty camper dressed like a vagabond.

In my Twenties and a child of the Sixties, I was talking with my mother about my life and said something about what made me happy. Her retort with a true snort was, “Happy, happy, all your generation wants is to be happy.” Well, yeah. As if there was something wrong with that. Granted that she lived through the Great Depression and I was, relatively, a child of privilege, but her remark gave me pause in my happiness quest because it made it seem as if it was a dirty thing to want.

I have clients who, as the oldest child in the family were raised to care for their brood of younger siblings. These clients then married young, divorced, and remarried or stay single. Now in their mid-forties they’re clueless about what makes them happy. Drugs? Alcohol? Food? It certainly isn’t self-care, because where would they have learned about it. Starting from scratch to figure out happiness goals hasn’t been an easy job because doing something pleasurable triggers guilt from long ago. 

I have an accomplished friend, retired, who’s had an impressive career that took her traveling around the world. Her children are grown now and her husband continues to work into his 70s and pursue his many hobbies. The only thing she can identify that rings her chimes is visiting her grandchildren out of state which isn’t possible during the pandemic. She’s revisiting what makes her happy now that her situation has changed.

So, how do you find what makes you happy? The same way you discover what foods you enjoy and how they feel in your body. By trial and error with a non-judgmental, curious mindset. Throw out all the old rules. Don’t say no to possibilities unless they’re dangerous (a bit of risk is okay). Open your heart and mind and give anything that you’re drawn to a try. There’s something out there for you that’s just waiting to be found.