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  • Darci Daniels

Are You Happy?

Creating a Life You Love, Part 2 (Part 1 was published here)

Me, deliriously happy in Ravello, Italy, 2015. Photo credit: Susan Honnell

Are you happy? I really, truly want to know. Do you consider yourself a happy person? Do you generally wake up in a good mood? Or do you struggle to find happiness? Do you wish you could change things in your life so you’d be happier? Most of us are striving to be happy, and according to studies, that’s our main goal as humans.

I’m reading a great book right now, it’s called ‘The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World’s Happiest People’. If you’ve heard of the Danish concept of Hygge (prounounced Hoo-ga, loose translation: cozy) before, this book is an offshoot of that. Lykke (pronounced Loo-ka) means happiness in Danish, and the Danes are the happiest people in the world, according to studies. Did you know there’s even a Happiness Research Institute in their capital of Copenhagen?

Happiness is an interesting thing to study, because it’s so subjective. The Institute has figured out how to do it though, and has surveyed people from around the world to come up with various measurements. Did you know there are at least 3 different dimensions of happiness? There’s the affective dimension, which is basically concerned with how happy you are right now. This dimension is all about happiness that we have in the moment, today. There’s an ancient Greek word, eudaemonia, that encapsulates Aristotle’s perception of happiness for another dimension, which is that the good life is a purposeful and meaningful life. Then there’s the cognitive dimension, and this is how happy your life is overall, when taking in the big picture. But it’s the question posed around this that really blew my mind…

“When trying to evaluate (this) happiness, the important information is what your dream is and how close you feel to living that dream.”

Holy. Shit.

The same things don’t make all of us happy, that much is obvious. But they’re able to measure something as subjective as happiness by simply asking people how close they feel to living their dream?

I’ve never thought about happiness in quite that way – how close do you feel to living your dream? Not what your dream is, but whether it’s right for you, and how close you feel to living it?

How many people do you know that, if asked that question, wouldn’t even know what their dream is? Or have such an outdated dream, they can’t possibly measure up to it? (Think someone who wanted to be a professional athlete when they were a kid, but never came close, and still thinks of themselves as a failure for not making it.) Or maybe they have a dream that’s absolutely current and fairly easily achievable, but they will never make the changes to go live it out (like moving to a different city)? I’m guessing there are a lot of us that fall into these categories. I know for me, when I turned 30, I wanted to be married with a kid (or 2), graduated from college and working in a job I went to school for, nice house, nice car, and HAPPY. Well, when I turned 30 I had almost all of that (1 kid, not doing a job I went to school for, but which I liked), but the bitch of it was, I wasn’t really happy. Even worse, I was frustrated with myself that I wasn’t happy. I had pretty much everything I dreamed about, and my life looked pretty close to what I had wanted, so why wasn’t I HAPPY?

Turns out, it’s because I’d been dreaming of the wrong dream for me.

This is a pretty important point. Why had I been dreaming of those things? Why weren’t they enough, or worse, why were they wrong? What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just be happy?

I asked myself all these questions and more. I didn’t let myself off the hook. I will admit though, I didn’t ask them right away. It took a few years before I realized just how not-happy I was, and started to really explore the what and why. It’s over a decade later, and I’m finally coming to some conclusions after almost totally changing my life.

Turns out, I was dreaming those things because I thought I was supposed to. I wanted to be married and have a kid, good job, nice house, and nice car by 30 because I was afraid of what my life would look like if I didn’t have them. That was safe, secure, the way it was supposed to be. And because it’s what I knew would make everyone around me happy, I convinced myself it’s what would make me happy. After all, why would I want anything else?

The problem is I did want more. A lot more. But the things that I wanted weren’t necessarily external, like the easily definable stuff. I did want my child, I’d always wanted to be a mom. That was always the right thing for me. I did want to be married, but my marriage didn’t look or feel inside like what I’d always hoped. I did want a job, but I more than that I wanted a passion and a purpose. I wanted to be connected to my work. I wanted to make a difference in peoples lives and to feel like I was doing what I was meant to be doing. Although my job was a good one, and I liked it well enough, it wasn’t even close to that definition. And a big one -- less than 2 years after my daughter was born, I found myself in a bigger house that we felt we “needed” to move up to. And I didn’t like it. I’d loved my smaller house, but I felt disconnected from the bigger house, it was too big, it was too dark, too expensive, and it wasn’t me. I’d made this decision willingly, and I realized too late it was the wrong one. But, again, it wasn’t about the outside stuff. It was about how it felt inside me. The decision to buy that house had been made from fear. Fear that the market would go up and we’d be priced out of a bigger house when we needed it. Fear we wouldn’t have enough bedrooms, or space for guests, if we had another baby. Fear that we needed to keep up with our friends. Decisions made out of fear are rarely the right ones, and I’d made a lot of decisions out of fear.

Most importantly, I wanted to love myself. To make decisions from a place of joy and excitement. To feel connected, spiritually. To deal with the ups and downs of life easier. Everything seemed like a bit of a struggle, though on the outside, I know my life looked pretty perfect.

And that’s where we get caught.

We find ourselves in lives that we can change, but we don’t. We think we’re stuck, that we don’t have any choice. We think something is wrong with us, instead of just WRONG. Instead of realizing we’re living the wrong dream, we put ourselves in a box and tell ourselves we should just be grateful for what we have. That it was what we wanted, and it’s too late to do anything about it now. And yeah, it may not look exactly like we wanted, but it’s close enough, right? This may work, for a little while. Kind of. Until something big happens. Until the bottom falls out – a job loss, an affair, you realize you have a problem with alcohol, you’ve put on 50 extra pounds, someone gets very sick, or worse, someone dies. Or until you simply can’t take it anymore, can’t fake that you’re happy. It may be as simple as you can’t listen to your boss drone on and on about metrics and upskilling and outside sales one more time. It may be as serious as you can’t listen to her berate you again, or can’t let him hit you one more time. At that point, you’ll have to face it – you’re not happy, you’re actually fairly miserable, and you need to make some major changes.

First, breathe.

Do you have a different dream? One you didn’t even want to admit to yourself? One that’s in the back of your mind? If you think yes, running away from life and starting over sounds great! That’s not a dream. That’s an escape. What about smaller shifts? Sometimes it’s just one thing that makes our whole lives feel unhappy, but once that has shifted, everything else is good (or can be dealt with).

For a client of mine, it was his job. He loved his girlfriend, he liked where he lived, he had great friends and a good relationship with his family. But he was increasingly unhappy, and it was putting a strain on all his relationships. His unhappiness with his job affected everything else. When we started working together, we pinpointed what it was, and what he really wanted to do. He was a creative guy, and the job he had was fairly creative, so he convinced himself for several years that was close enough. But when it got to the breaking point, he needed help. We walked through what an ideal day would look like for him, and that changed everything. He had a new dream, and it was so vivid, he couldn’t help but start moving toward it. Once he did that for himself, everything else settled back in to place.

Sometimes one change begets more changes. This is what scares people. Sure, they can change their job, but if it pays less, then they may have to sell their house. Or move out of state. Which would upset their friends and family. Or maybe they want to move out of state, but their spouse doesn’t. Or their kids are grown, and they don’t want to move away from them. Maybe you are afraid to look at any of it, because you may want to change most of it.

Maybe. But take it from me, living a life that makes you unhappy, that hurts your heart and damages your soul, is worse.

When I knew I wasn’t living my dream, job-wise, I started searching for answers. I watched a lot of Oprah, I read self-help books, I journaled a lot, I spent a lot of time alone. My husband at the time was very understanding, and he would take care of our daughter while I sat upstairs and processed and cried. He didn’t know what was going on, but he knew I had to deal with it. That was all I knew, too. I did therapy for a year, and then started coach training. Two months of being coached did more than a year of therapy did, and I quickly realized, it wasn’t my job that was the most pressing issue – it was my marriage. I had married a great guy and we got along very well, but he wasn’t MY great guy. We just didn’t fit, and couldn’t find a way to make each other happy. I started to learn it was my job to make myself happy. I couldn’t ask him to do for me what I couldn’t do for myself. And the more I explored the questions, especially “what’s wrong with me?” I learned the answer was, in fact, nothing. We simply wanted different things from a relationship. And that was okay. It wasn’t easy or fun, but in order for me to have a shot at being happy, I needed to live alone, in a different house. (Well, alone half the time, we share custody of our daughter, and I’d never give her up.) I was afraid, at first, of being a single mom and a divorcée. It took me quite a while, but I realized the only thing I was worried about was how it would look to other people, and about hurting the people I loved. But I couldn’t lead a life that I wasn’t meant to be living any more. I knew things would get increasingly worse if I tried to, and I wanted to be a good mom. I wanted my daughter to see me happy. I wanted to BE happy! If she was in my shoes, I wouldn’t want her to do things only to keep me happy!

That wasn’t the end of my changes, either. I moved, into a small townhouse that was perfect for me. I changed jobs, twice. I started my coaching business -part time. Then I bought a cute little house I adore. I turned my coaching into a full-time business. The only outward things that are the same from 10 years ago are my car, my daughter, my extended family, and some friends. Nearly everything else has changed. When I became a coach, I even met a whole new group of friends, and my 3 closest friends are all people I met in the last 10 years. I traveled to Positano, Italy (twice!), a place I’d dreamed of going for over 20 years. I’ve taken trips with friends, and traveled a bit alone. Those were things that scared me, to do them without partner – buy a house, travel, live as the sole adult in the house. But they have brought me incredible amounts of joy.

Have you ever heard the saying, “It may not be easy, but it will be worth it”?

Yeah, that.

I am so glad I got honest with myself and moved forward with my dreams. Looking back from this side of things, I’m insanely proud I didn’t let fear drive my decisions. (Well, it may have some times, but I bounced back.) I’m profoundly glad that I dreamed a new dream and went in search of my happiness. I’m not there yet, but then again, life is a journey. There are good times and bad times, but I’m always dreaming new dreams and I can say with all honesty I feel like I’m closer to living my dreams – my true dreams – today, than I’ve ever been before.

How’s that for happiness?

PS – I’m not telling you to quit your job, leave your spouse, run off with the gardener, move across country, or renounce your citizenship. I’m encouraging you to figure out if you feel like you’re living close to your dream, and if not, which parts don’t fit? Upgrade your dream. Update your dream. Do it for you, not to please others. And if you find you may have to make major changes, breathe deeply. You don’t have to do anything TODAY. Just dream. Think about what you really want. When you’re ready to make changes, like my client was, you’ll know. If you need someone to talk to, if you’re are ready to take a step forward (even if it’s just admitting you have a new dream) I’m happy to help. Send an email to, and lets talk. 😊


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