“I Should Be Happy” Syndrome

by Alina on April 25, 2012

in Happiness, Need a Change

Everyone is worried about happiness these days:  Face Mask by Racchio, Flickr

Are the kids happy?’

Are employees happy?”

“Am I happy?”

“Am I happy enough?”

Will I be happy if I move? If I stay? Marry? Quit my job? Follow my passion? Start a business? Go to college? Quit college? Have kids? Go on a retreat?”

These days you can get a degree in happiness (ok, ok, it’s Applied Positive Psychology), and study happiness economics.

There are also many wonderful books teaching us how to achieve happiness:

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt,

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Todd Gilbert

The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky

The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living by Dalai Lama

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin E. P. Seligman

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar,

and many more.

Yet, with all of these fantastic resources, research and enlightenment, I still hear from clients all the time: “I Should be happy!” The rest is implied: “…but I’m not”.

Here are some of the signs and symptoms of the “I Should be Happy” Syndrome, in case you want to self-diagnose:

– You’ve done everything right: studied at the right school, got the right job, live in the right place, with the right family. And yet, secretly, you feel like you have failed somewhere.

– You are an expert at the job that you like, and still, you feel like you could be doing something better.

– You have everything that you need, and many of the things that you want, yet you feel like something is seriously missing.

Penelope Trunk gave a perfect example of “I Should Be Happy” Syndrome as she described “a day in a life”, with everything that she wanted – life on the farm, homeschooling her kids, blogging and consulting. Her post ended with “I should be happy”.

So, if you think you are suffering from the “I Should Be Happy” Syndrome, here are a couple of quick pointers to help you  feel better:

1. Learn what “happy” feels like in your body, so that you can really tell when you are happy.

You probably know what it feels like when you are giddy or excited, but happiness is not always about that. It is often about doing meaningful work, getting in the flow, feeling connected and loved.

So, think of the last time you’ve done something really meaningful; imagine that you are doing it right now, this second, and notice how your body feels as you are re-living that experience.

Remember the last time you felt really connected and loved; put yourself in the middle of this experience as if it is happening right now, and notice how your body feels.

Once you train yourself to recognize your physical sensations of happiness, you’ll start noticing unexpected moments of happiness in your life, without over-thinking them. It can happen when you are brushing your teeth, or reading a book, or opening the door and realizing that you are dressed perfectly to the weather. And this brings me to the second point:

2. Focus on moments of happiness, rather than 24/7 happiness.

Happiness, like many good things in life (say, a heartbeat), has a natural cycle, a rhythm. So, rather than seeing “I should be happy, but I’m not” as a theme of your life, look at it as a moment on a timeline. If you are not where you want to be, give yourself something to look forward to within the next 24 hours.

Maybe, you are Not a happy parent when you come home from work, hungry, and all the kids demand your attention. Still, maybe you Are a happy parent after dinner, when the kids are in bed in their pajamas, teeth brushed, and you are trying to explain reincarnation to your 5-year old per his request.

Maybe you are Not a happy employee when you have 5 urgent projects on your plate, and you just got a new one that was due yesterday. And maybe you Are a happy employee when you’ve created a brilliant solution that, say, saves a team of engineers many hours of work.

So, go for maximizing the number of happiness points, not for a happiness continuum.

When it comes to your health, sometimes you can get away with a quick tip from your doctor, and sometimes you feel like you really need to come in for an appointment. So, if you feel like your “I Should Be Happy” Syndrome needs further attention, please schedule an appointment, and I’ll help.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Orin May 8, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Interesting points. I’d be curious to see how you differentiate between the constructs of life satisfaction, subjective well-being, and happiness.


Alina May 8, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Orin, interesting question. Personally, I see life satisfaction as that feeling that you get when you do a really great job, or when you do the right thing [that doesn’t backfire]: you know that you did well, and you are satisfied with the choices you made. You feel “right” and confident. Now, subjective well-being (to me) is a light-hearted feeling of “all is well” – you are satisfied plus you feel like smiling when you think about your life. Happiness is made up of many pieces: satisfaction, well-being, meaning, purpose, challenge, flow. I think that if you experience enough points of satisfaction, well-being, meaning, etc., the bigger picture of your life emerges as “happiness”.


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