Take a Chance on Happiness

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It’s So Worth It! by Valorie Burton

Someone once told me, “Happiness is a risk. Guilt is safe.”

I stared in disbelief. Happiness is a risk? I’d never heard that. What did this mean? And could it be true?

I’ve spent many years of my career talking about how happiness is a choice. Never have I consciously thought of it as a risk. Call me naive. To me, happiness is what we all want, even if we don’t say so. But when I asked her what she meant by the idea that happiness is a risk, I realized that deep down, I behaved as though it was.

Happiness is the motivation for every goal we set. Basically, happiness is the one thing we pursue for its own sake. Everything else, we typically pursue because we believe it will ultimately make us happier if we attain it. Whether a relationship or a career opportunity, money or a weight- loss goal — or even having more faith — we pursue goals because ultimately we think we’ll be better off — happier — when we reach the goal. No one asks you why you want to be happy. It’s a given. Not even the most pessimistic, unmotivated grouch sets a goal to have their most miserable, unhappy year ever.

So what is happiness? It is subjective well-being. I can’t tell you you’re happy or not happy. You are the judge of that.

The problem is, the road to any goal is a winding one. Obstacles and challenges abound. There is often a price to pay in exchange for reaching the goal— and we pay it in time, energy, and sacrifice.

Risk is the reason most people never step out on faith for their big dreams. Whether the risk of failure or the risk of rejection or the risk of uncertainty, it ignites fear. The what-if question arises — and for most people, that means stop. What if I fail? What if I’m wrong? What if they don’t like my decision? What if __________? If you’re human, you’ve likely asked what-if questions that left you paralyzed with fear.

No matter the goal, many of us tend to overestimate the risk of pursuing something that could make us truly happy. It’s a protective mechanism. Better to overestimate the risk of happiness and avoid pain than underestimate the risk and find yourself living in regret for your choices. Fear is powerful; our brains are wired to pay attention to it. But we can treat unfounded fears as seriously as well- founded ones. So when those what- if questions kick in and our fears go into high gear, our brains naturally want to avoid the potential danger (code: pain) that fear tells us could be on the horizon.

If happiness is a risk, it also comes with its own set of what-if questions:

•           What if I don’t deserve happiness?

•           What if I’m happy while others are suffering?

•           What if I can’t maintain this level of happiness or success?

•           What if others become jealous?

•           What if my naysayers are right and end up saying “I told you so”?

•           What if my happiness disrupts my relationships?

•           What if what I think will make me happy doesn’t?

These aren’t typically questions we ask aloud. Sometimes they’re refrains that play quietly and persistently in our minds. Sometimes they’re so much a part of our mental landscape, it doesn’t occur to us that they are making us fearful.

To be happy, you’ll have to give up the certainty of what you know. Subconsciously, for some, it feels safer to hold on to what you know than to venture out of your comfort zone. But if you make the changes in your life that you’re afraid to make, you just might succeed at becoming happier than you’ve ever been.

If happiness is a risk, then unhappiness is safe. It’s certain. You know what to expect. Guilt is one of many negative emotions that create unhappiness. When you feel guilty, you take action out of that guilt, and those actions become your norm. You expect it, and so does everyone else. It’s bondage, but you know what the boundaries are— the boundaries that keep you confined to a life that is not authentic, although it certainly is familiar.

The safety of unhappiness is the security of a comfort zone. But it isn’t actually safety—it’s the feeling of safety. You might not like being unhappy, but at least you know what’s coming. You know what arguments to expect, whom to appease, and how you will feel.

To be happy, you may have to set boundaries. You may have to stop taking responsibility for things that are not your responsibility, and allow others to step in. You may have to own your values and opinions, which could be different from the values and opinions of those around you. You may have to stop pre-tending things are okay that aren’t. You may have to stop blaming others for problems and take ownership of your role, even if it is a role for which you feel guilty. And you may have to do the hard work of evaluating, learning, and forgiving yourself for past choices. None of these actions are in most people’s comfort zones. They feel risky. But to be happy, these are the types of actions you’ll need to take.

Ridiculous as it may sound, we can become so comfortable with the absence of happiness that when there is no reason to be unhappy, we manufacture one. Worry. Discontentment. Envy. Blame. Drama. And, yes, guilt. So when I say guilt is safe, what I am saying is that guilt moves your emotions from positive to negative— to a place that may feel more known, more comfortable. It is up to you to decide when you are ready to release the false guilt and reclaim your joy.

Taken from “Let Go of the Guilt” by Valorie Burton. Copyright 2020 by Valorie Burton. Used with permission from www.thomasnelson.com

This article was extracted from the premier issue of Thrive Magazine (Spring 2021). Learn how to get your copy of Thrive Magazine by visiting us here.