Secrets of Adulthood: Happiness Doesn’t Always Make You Feel Happy.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


One nice thing about not being a scientist? I can say things that a scientist couldn’t get away with.

For instance: happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. For instance, sometimes, the things you do to feel right make you feel bad — but they still make you feel happy, because you’re living up to your values.

Can you think of times when something made you unhappy — but also happy? This often comes up with novelty and challenge. Doing something new and challenging often brings feelings of anxiety, anger, and frustration. But there’s also a kind of happiness that comes from knowing that you’ve met the challenge.

  • Sadye

    Running comes to mind pretty quickly!

  • Mimi Gregor

    Working out doesn’t make me happy, per se, but being trim, healthy, and fit certainly does, and exercise is one of the things I must do to achieve that.

    Schlepping in loads of firewood doesn’t make me happy, but sitting by a warm fire on a cold night does, so the wood must be carried in.

    Cleaning the house doesn’t make me happy, but living in a clean house does.

    Sometimes the journey is what makes us happy. But sometimes one tolerates the journey because the destination is what makes us happy. Ideally, one would have both, but if that isn’t possible, then one must juxtapose the two and decide whether the ends compensate for the means.

    • Kathy

      Great point–sometimes the journey makes up happy, and sometimes the destination.

  • Swimming! Competitive swimmers are always saying how they don’t like the sport and how they have no idea why they swim and put themselves through it, but we always keep on going! It’s a love-hate relationship really -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

  • Would not the distinction between hedone (pleasure) and eudaimonia (happiness in the sense of significance) help here? One might do something which is unpleasant, but very significant —giving birth or taking care of a child come immediately to one’s mind.

    • PolarSamovar

      This was my thought too. Sitting with a dying friend or working through an emotional conflict with a loved one are not pleasurable; but difficult actions like those are necessary for authentic well-being.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    For me, the ‘happiness’ seems to flow from being able to feel ‘purposeful’. Your post came up yesterday after I had spent some time digging out holiday lights and clearing up the corner alcove where I put the Christmas tree. This involves packing away some vases and mementos and carefully removing glass shelves and storing them safely. In the process, I discovered that my Mom had squirreled away about 15 empty cardboard boxes in a closet that I had to dispose of before I could begin to get near the lights. I was not ‘HAPPY” at that moment!! Yet purposefully working toward having the house ready so that when my brother and sister in law arrive for Thanksgiving, and for the VERY first time in about 38 years, they are at my home for the holidays, is such a happy prospect that I am very willing to work purposefully toward it–even though at the moment I was sweaty, tired, and slightly frustrated at extra obstacles. The very thought of my lights on the bushes and the porch and the tree brings a glow to my insides that can’t be matched. Besides, I am now beginning to indulge in the more ‘vague’ Christmas music instrumentals and classical pieces on CDs . . and that makes me VERY happy

    I witness every day how the loss of the ability to BE purposeful makes my poor Mom quite miserable. She hovers and wanders, she declares a purpose then floats away to fall asleep a little more. Mom was a most purposeful, hard – working, involved-in-life person, and was very happy when she could feel useful and purposeful.

    • Trixe

      That’s an interesting comment about your Mom. Over the past year or so, when I’ve found myself in the midst of drudgery (tons of laundry, dishes, etc.), I’ve been telling myself that at least I can do those things myself even though I’d rather be doing something else, whereas my sister had been doing my mom’s laundry for her, and my mom reached the point where cleaning up her not-too-messy kitchen was difficult, she had trouble balancing her checkbook (she had worked at a bank much of her life and could balance anyone’s checkbook), and so on. Like your mom, she hated that feeling and was frustrated. She didn’t like having to depend on someone else but didn’t have much choice in most cases.

  • Dianne Ochiltree

    Yep! Doing some things, like eating the mound of broccoli instead of the pile of French fries, is going to yield long-term happiness while delivering a dose of short-term ‘eh’.

  • Holly

    I did a body building competition, actually a couple, not too long ago. The changes I made to my diet in the last few weeks were excruciating. I felt like I was hanging on to a cliff with my fingernails and at any moment might fall into the abyss of sugary delights. Any yet, there was a sense of excitement building up in me. I finally made it to the competition. Successfully performed. And, the moment I walked off that stage, felt the most indescribable sense of elation and happiness. Its this experience that I think of when reading Gretchen’s quote.

  • Sandy Schlenoff

    I went to a 6:15am barre class this morning. I feel awesome now and I’m SO happy I went, but I was not thrilled at 5:45 when the alarm went off (or as my legs were killing me).

  • louise

    Identifying what is meaningful and of value to me has made a huge difference in what I know makes me happy. I recently volunteered to coordinate a community initiative, which means organizing meetings, public speaking, creating discussion groups, being a good leader, etc.. As an introvert these are not easy things to do. But, every time I come away feeling proud of my contribution knowing I am making a positive difference that is helping individuals and the community. The opportunity (and challenge) to use my knowledge and skills makes me happy, even when it’s super hard work.

  • LiseyK

    I think I experience two realms of “happy”. There’s that wonderful feeling of anticipation, excitement, engagement where I have a smile on my face and just can’t wait to do whatever is coming up. Alternately I know that I am in a happy period just when I feel content and things are going along smoothly and I’m very satisfied with my life at that particular moment.

  • I think the secret of solving this apparent contradiction is to learn to like the process as much as the result.

    So redecorating is just as much fun as the warm glow of achievement when you finish. Working out is as enjoyable as admiring the trim, fit you in the mirror. And de-cluttering is just as fulfilling and rewarding as finally ending up with a clutter-free house.

    I think Gretchen advised in one of her posts quite a while ago to turn little irritations (such as waiting for a bus) into meditations. I’ve tried to take that approach to the sometimes laborious route that leads to things that make me happy. I can’t say I’ve entirely succeeded, but it certainly makes the journey more fun.

  • bill

    Living within my means does not make me happy. But at least I don’t owe banks money.

  • Are you on bloglovin? It would make it so much easier to follow your blog if you are.

  • Patsy

    I wish I’d known about @75things. Excellent book

  • Randee Bulla

    This one resonates with me and saving for retirement. It’s taken years to finally get our retirement savings rate where it needed to be so we can feel secure when the time comes I cannot or do not want to work any longer. It was painful and made me so unhappy every time we paid ourselves first and increased the amount we were saving -and then saying no to so many things with so many people. We’d eventually get used to the smaller cash flow and then we’d turn around and do it again. We refinanced our house so it would be paid off by the “finish line” so we’d need less to retire. We cut the cable plug. We staycationed most of the time. We focused more and more on intentional spending. UGH. SO UNHAPPY. Every. single. month. But we knew it was the right thing to do, no matter how hard it was. Then an unexpected thing started to happen a few months ago. Our retirement balances started getting large enough that at this rate, I WILL be able to retire at 60 IF I want to, and IF we’re able to continue this path with our jobs and lifestyle. I’ve been really unhappy since having to start over at 35 – house, career path, vehicles, belongings, savings, retirement. But after 10 years of doing the right thing, I’m suddenly ecstatic. I’m HAPPY taking our Christmas staycation. I’m HAPPY giving smaller, but more personal gifts. I’m HAPPY figuring out how to live life to the fullest with what we have left in our bank account each payday after paying ourselves first. And I’m motivated each month when I look at our growing accounts, that those many small moments of unhappiness will add up to a very happy retiree in another 15 years.