What is happiness, anyway?

A is for Angst

“Are you happy?”

For someone who professed to be terrible at giving advice, he was a ninja of tact. When in doubt, and pressed for an answer, simply rebut with a question in turn – it’s a fail safe tactic. Particularly when you’ve been put on the spot by someone you don’t know all that well. Oops.

The problem with the ‘are you happy?’ benchmark  is that happiness isn’t static. If we all did what made us happy in the short term, well, the world might be a very different place. It’s called adulting.

“Happiness is fleeting and at times elusive. We won’t always grasp it, and we’ll forgive ourselves if we don’t. Our lives might not always be happy, but they will be full with experience and with one another.”    (via A Practical Wedding)

The struggle

I’ve been finding happiness in the little moments. But I don’t know if those are enough. I don’t know if that makes up for the overall instability of our current existence – because this is my LIFE, and I’m the only one who has to live it and the only one who can take full responsibility for it.

I can’t tell if I’m cold or codependent (that probably changes from moment to moment). I can’t tell if I’m expecting too much and need to learn to roll with the punches or if I’m an idiot for sticking it out so long. I feel like I could paint at least two very different pictures, two very different interpretations, of the past few years, and I honestly don’t know which would be the more accurate. I don’t know where to draw the line, because there is no clear demarcation for these kinds of things.

From a wholly pragmatic perspective, I should have walked months ago. I tried, sort of. But I’m very good at that womanly thing of Putting Others First. Too good.

The question I’ve been asking myself a lot is: How do you know? There are things we’ve been taught are dealbreakers in relationships. But for most of us, it’s not that clear cut. So many times I’ve just wished for someone to tell me what to do, and be done with it.

What is expecting too much? What is expecting too little? Am I settling? Am I being unrealistic?

I ain’t saying she a gold digger, but I do require an equal partner.

Truths to live by

It’s insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

Do not expect other people to change.

I am the only person responsible for my own happiness.

(Oh, and the sunk cost fallacy – throw that in there too.)

Words of wisdom

I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in a lovely comment left here some months ago:

“I used to go to sleep some nights thinking I was going to wake up the next morning, pack a suitcase and head to my mom’s and start the separation process. … I also would give myself ultimatums like ‘if it’s not better by this date I’m leaving’”

I remember reading somewhere – I suspect in a post about unconventional relationship advice – that you must be willing to walk away. Now, I know it’s commonly thrown around that people just aren’t committed enough today and that they give up too easily or expect perfection. But to be frank, I’ve yet to see a single example of this in the lives of anyone I know. We’ve all got the opposite problem – we don’t know when to walk away. We hang on for all we’ve got.

I thought I was willing to walk. But it took months to actually muster myself to that tipping point and look over the edge.

And I can’t lie, the terror I felt was almost paralysing.

Being there, though – that was a turning point. I was making plans. I was saving listings on TradeMe. I went and looked at another place to live. It wasn’t just an option; I was committed to leaving. (Not necessarily the relationship, but definitely the living situation, for many pragmatic reasons.)

What changed my mind? So many little things, barely on the spectrum at all, really – a toothbrush, an unexpected encounter – but enough in aggregate to drive me into even deeper contemplation. Ultimately, a third path started to crystallise. I ran scenarios, crunched numbers. I thought I found a way to get what I wanted, without having to shake up my entire life right now. A win-win, as they call it. There’s nothing quite like feeling backed into a corner, and finally seeing a sliver of light in a new option as it reveals itself.

Moving forward

The most important thing is not my marriage. It’s ME.

I certainly haven’t been acting like it. But once I finally cemented this in my mind, things became a lot clearer.

Again, this is my life. I only get one, and I’m the only one living it. There are things I cannot control in it, things that have made life quite miserable. But there are other things I can control, and can change, to mitigate that. Sour as that lemonade is to swallow, it’s not as bitter as the lemons.

So, I’m making plans to achieve the things I want. My number one priority is myself. The status quo is unsustainable; a 2016 without progress is unacceptable.

Hopefully the future still involves us growing old together – but if it doesn’t, I have made peace with that. That might sound depressing, but I find this freeing.

Happiness is having a plan.

TL;DR: Money is the most important thing in the world. Don’t believe anyone who says it isn’t.

(Sorrynotsorry if that offends your romantic heart.)

20 thoughts on “What is happiness, anyway?

  • Reply Kath November 18, 2015 at 08:50

    I’m just an internet stranger, but your honesty and thoughts here really touched me. Without knowing any details it sounds a stressful relationship/money(?) situation – I hope that you can find a good way forward for yourself.
    And I think you’re dead on about relationships patterns. All this media stuff about flighty millennials and their disposable relationships isn’t true in my experience. As always, people want to make a meaningful connection. The trick, of course, is to balance that with other variables in one’s life.
    I wish you the best.

  • Reply Anya November 18, 2015 at 11:00

    I love this post and have been following this topic closely. While our situation is different, I find myself with the same struggles. I’ve lost myself in my relationship because I’ve built my life around the marriage without thinking about my needs. I can’t offer words of wisdom. Just wanted you to know that you’re not alone. And perhaps when/if you’re ready, maybe you can fill us in on what steps you’re taking to put yourself first.

  • Reply Sam November 18, 2015 at 14:15

    As someone who has gone through what you are currently doing; your words really resonate with me. I used to read the to rent column every Saturday and like you look a lot at trade me. That struggle is real and ongoing and unfortunately it is a journey back to happiness.
    No one ever said life would be easy and no one else truly has your best interests at heart. You are the only one responsible for your choices and reactions to situations.
    That all said and time is a great healer and perspective maker.

  • Reply Savvy November 18, 2015 at 16:00

    I was in a relationship similar to yours when I was younger. My live-in fiancé was in school forever. He kept changing his major. He would work an odd job from time-to time which helped with rent, but then he’d quit or I’d come home and he’d be on the coach – he called in sick.

    I had a similar aha moment when our relationship got rocky – I had to be responsible for myself. Pay my bills, take care of my health, finish my own education, etc. Our relationship never made it – I was a controlling “B” for getting upset when he quit another job.

    I don’t regret my relationship this relationship, but do admit it is so much better being in a relationship with an equal partner who shares my values – my current husband.

    I did see a counselor who recommended a woman’s support group to help me with the transition. I don’t think I would have been strong enough to go through with the break up on my own. They supported me with baby steps – asking for my key back, getting a new apartment and finding a new roommate.

    Good luck to you. I know how hard this is.

  • Reply middle class November 19, 2015 at 06:15

    This is a hard decision. As someone who has stuck it out, despite inequality in income, I can truly say that expecting the other person to change is not wise. I have to accept that my husband’s strengths lie elsewhere and be happy when he is able to contribute more to the household. A friend of mine did get her husband to change and be the breadwinner while she stayed home. He is not happy but it is definitely easier in our society for the man to be the main provider.

  • Reply Stephany November 19, 2015 at 10:12

    I think the above advice, not expecting others to change, is wise. But I think you also have to really ask yourself if nothing does change, what then? Are you willing to stay if he stays the same?

    I’m sorry you are going through this and you’ll be in my thoughts and prayers. <3

  • Reply sherry @ save. spend. splurge. November 19, 2015 at 10:26


    I am here.

  • Reply Amanda | musicalpoem November 19, 2015 at 10:26

    Again, much love. As someone who once lost herself in a relationship (albeit for different reasons than your situation), I can promise you that it’s possible to find your way back.

  • Reply Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank November 19, 2015 at 11:12

    We can be happy if we decide on it. Every morning, I always start my day by smiling and thinking of opportunities I may have in that day. By doing this, it makes me happy and positive at all times.

  • Reply Time and The Bottle November 19, 2015 at 14:58

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now. And just like a proper stalker, I’ve never commented. But after reading this post, I felt like I needed to say something.
    I walked away from an 8-year relationship. It was not easy. It was not nice. It was very painful. But in retrospect, it was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It took me years, however, to realize that I had to walk away. I owed it to myself. I owed it to him. I finally was able to accept the idea that I deserve better. That he deserves better.
    Seems like you are going through the rough time. Hang in there. Clarity will find you. Or you will find it.

  • Reply leslie November 19, 2015 at 17:28

    “Now, I know it’s commonly thrown around that people just aren’t committed enough today and that they give up too easily or expect perfection. But to be frank, I’ve yet to see a single example of this in the lives of anyone I know. We’ve all got the opposite problem – we don’t know when to walk away. We hang on for all we’ve got.”

    you’ve hit the nail on the head. this is soo true.

  • Reply Richard November 19, 2015 at 22:12

    It’s health first but money is a very, very close second but I get your point. It took me until my 40s to understand this. Better late than never I guess.

  • Reply Michelle November 20, 2015 at 05:09

    First, sending a hug-know that you are not alone that you’ve got us and that we support whatever you choose to do. Focusing on you will help you gain clarity on what you should do next. You will always be your own best advocate. The people you surround yourself with should push you, support your vision, and challenge you intellectually.

    I don’t know if T is aware of how unhappy you are (and I hope he is), am wondering if you two would be willing to go to a counselor…regardless, you decide what you’re willing to do and commit to that. If it works great, if it doesn’t-you tried and can move on without any guilt. Sending good vibes.

  • Reply Mutant Supermodel November 21, 2015 at 12:01

    Question with apologies in advance if it has been answered before– have you gone to counseling about this whole thing? Not the both of you necessarily but have you gone? If you have, I strongly encourage you to continue going, and if you have not I strongly encourage that you start.

    Happiness is a strange creature and too many times we tie happiness to things that we shouldn’t like our jobs and our spouses and our homes and our families. Happiness doesn’t really come from any of those things– it comes from us and our decision to be so. I highly suggest the books by Martin Seligman on this side of the coin. The two I can think of best are Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism. They did a world of good for me about a year ago.

    As for the shit storm that you are in– I don’t really know what to say. I have been in a situation where for 3 years my partner was woefully unsupportive financially. Now, in his case it wasn’t so much that he just didn’t want to work it was more like he didn’t want to look for work I think. It took three years but he finally got a SOLID job at one of the top companies to work for in the country. So miracles do happen 🙂 I did, however, have to have a serious conversation with him and may have let him believe that I was implying there was an ultimatum for him if he wasn’t gainfully employed by such and such a date. And I did so with a lot of input and guidance from a counselor which is why I strongly encourage you to regularly see one until you’re at a better place.

    BTW a small clarification for you to consider. You said this:
    The problem with the ‘are you happy?’ benchmark is that happiness isn’t static. If we all did what made us happy in the short term, well, the world might be a very different place. It’s called adulting.

    Doing things that make us happy has nothing to do with actual happiness, it’s pleasure. Pleasurable things often get mixed with happiness but they are separate. Conversely, you can be a happy person who is feeling sad. Happiness is an interesting and beautiful thing to welcome into your life. Read those books I mentioned, you’ll like them I think.

  • Reply Melanie @ Dear Debt November 24, 2015 at 13:21

    What a tough situation. I know how difficult having a lack of income parity is. I hope you find answers and resolutions soon. In the meantime, hugs.

  • Reply Sense December 2, 2015 at 03:05

    I’m only now catching up on posts properly enough to comment–but I have been reading. My thoughts are very much with you, even though I have been an absentee blog-friend. It sounds like you are in a painful situation right now, and I am so very sorry about that. Many virtual hugs to you.

    I have been in a similar place, I think–doubting myself so much that I couldn’t even figure out who/how I was in a relationship (e.g. cold vs codependent), or how who I was was contributing to the problem. I didn’t know if I was doing things too much or too little, and nothing I tried was working. All I could do in the end was wish I were a different person. I think I realised all of this way too late. My situation was different, of course, but it’s funny how similar the emotions can be.

    You’re right–this is YOUR life, and it is your responsibility to yourself to make things better. No matter what, if you are this unhappy, things have to change. And it sounds like you’ve realised that it is up to you to *make* them change. I agree–plans are awesome! I wish you the best as you continue to figure this out.

  • Reply Leslie December 4, 2015 at 11:37

    I see it as not “Are you happy?” but “Do you have happiness in your life?” And then I remind myself that “Happiness is not in the future.”

  • Reply cantaloupe December 4, 2015 at 23:10

    My favorite part of this entry was when you broke into “Golddigger,” haha.

    My boyfriend has this habit of asking me “Do you love me or the coin?” (Apparently it rhymes in Arabic, so it’s more clever to say coin.) And I answer, “Both.” And he insists I can’t do that, so I say, “Fine, the coin.” And then when I ask him, he answers, “Both.” And I of course also insist he can’t do that. And he laughs and evades and finally says, “Fine, the coin.” Which becomes problematic when I have the coin and thus can move on to loving him, whereas, he doesn’t have the coin, so is there any love for me? Or is it all love for the coin? I worry about this and we don’t even live together or share finances…. I should probably jump ship, huh?

    Except that truth be told, I have always been surrounded by strong females without men. But I would prefer to be a strong female with a man. Even if I’m carrying him in some ways. Especially if it’s this particular him that I’m carrying.

    Anyhow, the point is that I liked this entry. And I’m glad you’ve got a plan. And that your priorities are straight. Now, you do you.

  • Reply Amanda December 6, 2015 at 05:56

    I hope you are doing better since you wrote this.

    As someone whose only “serious relationship” was with someone who was more than an equal (but ended nonetheless, for very different reasons), I can’t even begin to imagine what this is like. Which is kind of why I can’t really understand why you are still here.

    The thing is though… in all the time I’ve read your blog, never have you (at least in the posts that I read back on every time I visit) mentioned how great life is with him. Or what admirable qualities he has that keeps you around. It always made me wonder — why is she pulling all this (dead) weight? That sounds harsh but you’re totally a woman with much of her shit together. I feel like you’ve worked hard to get places and that he hasn’t managed to.

    I don’t really care that people say that millennials have more “disposable” relationships or whatever. There are just as many older people out there my parents’ age who should’ve split and try to live life on their own terms, be it alone or with someone else, and they haven’t. A lot of people are crippled by the fear of failing or having to face a life completely different from what they feel they “signed up for” or envisioned. Whatever you decide to do, please do it for you. You’re way more caring and compassionate to ever need someone to tell you to think of others, so just think of yourself. Be selfish. Don’t let life and money be a one way street-type struggle.

  • Reply Linda December 11, 2015 at 16:04

    As painful as this process is, you’re on the right path. You’re very wise to look out for yourself, because no one else will.

    You are not your marriage. And if this doesn’t work out, that’s OK. You’re going to learn a lot from the relationship and your experiences in it. Hang in there and listen to your gut.

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