• Grace McMahon

International Happiness Day 2022: managing the expectations

International Happiness Day is an annual event organised by the United Nations to remind us that we should be mostly happy. We disagree, sorry to say it, but happiness isn’t a permanent state of mind that we can easily live in all the time. And this notion that we should be mostly happy is setting our sights to unachievable heights. So, this International Happiness Day, join us in normalising bad moods, feeling sad and facing stress - because we all do, even on a day dedicated to happiness.


Now, we’re not trying to encourage anyone to feel worse or wallow in their sorrows - although it’s totally ok to do that for a while. But this idea that we should all be happy most of the time really ramps up the pressure to not feel or even have those challenging feelings we all get. If we’re raising the expectation of our daily moods and emotions, when we do face challenging ones we end up being fearful of them, trying to get rid of them and hoping to never feel them again. And that, sadly, ain’t happening.


Perfectionistic pressure on our feelings


We all know that our moods change on a daily basis, hourly even - you know like when everything is going well and then you stub your little toe and it all comes crumbling down. Or when we get out of bed on the wrong side only to have a praise-filled, productive meeting that gives a boost of optimism. They change, and often. So putting this pressure on ourselves to ‘be happy’ can actually be quite unhelpful for most of us.


When we feel like we ‘should’ be doing something - whether that’s eating healthier or gyming more, or feeling positive - it’s putting extra pressure on ourselves which can make trying to meet these goals way more difficult. This is a form of perfectionism that is sweeping society right now, from trying to be the best at everything we do, to meeting unrealistic expectations that social media sets, and even this idea of being ‘happy’.


Perfectionism can be seen across most areas of our lives and it sets an unattainable standard to live up to.

It can make the good bits of life unrecognisable because they’re not the best, perfect or pristine. Think about it, when you finish work for the day and return to your home, or hop downstairs if WFH is still going strong for you - do you look around and think, ‘what a nice place I have, with nice things I like’ or do you think ‘there’s last nights washing up, not everything has a neatly labelled living space, and the floor needs hoovering AGAIN’. Are you looking at what you’ve got and what you’ve made for yourself, or comparing it to a higher standard (that honestly even the instagram gods don’t meet everyday)?


When we can’t recognise the ‘good’ things, we struggle to notice the fantastic things. So when it comes to our feelings - always pushing for happiness means we might miss the nice feelings, like contentment or satisfaction along the way. We miss those things that contribute to our contentment. But it also means we can end up beating ourselves up when things aren’t feeling great, or good even. There’s a lot to be said for positive thinking and finding joy, but our expectations of what that looks like when we get them, may be a little skewed with all this perfectionism in the air.



But it’s still a day for happiness, right?


Correct. While the expectations we’re trying to live up to can make the challenges we go through feel a whole lot more difficult, and the happy moments few and far between, there are some things we can do to ease this and remind ourselves how to feel satisfied, optimistic and content.


1. Pay attention to the moment

We’re all feeling the busyness of life hyping up again, the social calendar is filling, we’re getting the motivation back to go out and do things, we’re back on the progression track in life now that things feel a little more normal. When we’re busy it can be difficult to pause and pay attention to the moment, but practising this everyday not only helps us when we’re feeling challenging feelings, but also to notice those smaller moments of joy - like when the dog greets you at the door, or you kids made a cute card a school. Take a short moment each day to be present, focusing on what’s happening right now, it could be over dinner with the family, a walk on your own, or brunch with friends this weekend.


2. Sit with your feelings

Whether they’re positive and peaceful or a bit dark and stormy, allowing ourselves to feel those feelings without the need or desire to turn them off ASAP lets us recognise and process the feelings. When it’s easy and joyful, be grateful for those moments, take them in. When they’re challenging or saddening, comfort yourself and those emotions. When we push difficult feelings away they come back longer and stronger, which leaves less room for those happy moments when they pop up.


3. Express your gratitude

We’ve all got things in life we wish were different, or better even. I’d like a snazzy Mac desktop in my office but a gal can only dream right now. However, I've got plenty of other lovely things to be thankful for too. Expressing gratitude might look like writing down a list of things we’re grateful for or a Marie Kondo style ‘thanking of the item that sparks joy’ with a hug - maybe not with that cactus you’ve managed to keep alive though. The things we are grateful for will vary for each of us, some might be more fundamental to surviving others might be more trivial things that put a smile across your face.


4. Recognise satisfaction

Happiness is a temporary state that will look different for each of us. It’s moments of joy, pride, excitement, cheer! Those moments laughing with friends, that praise-filled meeting, that surprise dinner date. If we’re chasing a temporary state, trying to make it permanent will leave us disappointed. Try focusing on satisfaction, good mental health refers to feeling mostly satisfied with life. Sure, they’ll still be frustrating or sad moments, amongst those happy ones, but satisfaction means feeling generally pleased or content with our experiences. And that is much more attainable than trying to be happy most of the time.



Happiness is a feeling: Happiness is a temporary emotion like sadness or anger, we will experience longer moments and shorter moments but we won’t notice either if we’re caught up in trying to be happy all the time. Remember that external pressure fuels stress and anxiety and despite our social media feeds being full of ideals and perfection - it ain’t real so don’t let it trick you into thinking you’re missing out, doing it wrong, or not ‘happy’ enough.