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Why You Don't "Deserve" to Be Happy

Thinking you are entitled to happiness will limit your chances of finding it.

Key points

  • People experience happiness by living in the moment with gratitude, studies show, yet thinking that one deserves happiness can get in the way.
  • Social media can fuel unhappiness with exaggerated portrayals of instant gratification, which may leave people feeling unfulfilled.
  • Ways to foster happiness include practicing gratitude, focusing on one's strengths to gain confidence, and having a growth mindset.

Happiness can be described and defined in different ways. Studies in the field of positive psychology define happiness as feeling pride, gratitude, joy, having a sense of flow, and enthusiasm. These types of happiness-based positive emotions can be experienced in the moment or can be related to life satisfaction and an overall sense of appreciation for life.

Have You Ever Been Told You Deserve to Be Happy?

Even though we know what happiness is, we often feel disappointed when we "should be happy" but are not. Or, we blame our circumstances for making us unhappy. Yes, being in a situation where you feel miserable such as having a boss or a job you don't like, being in an unfulfilling relationship, or finding yourself otherwise struggling in life can lower our happiness level. Clearly, I support anyone who seeks out rewarding situations and desires changes in their lives that they find fulfilling.

Yet at what point do we set ourselves up by thinking we deserve to feel happy after we make such moves in our lives? Or how about when we even think we "should feel happy" — just because?

Social Media Fuels Our Unhappiness

Studies of the perception of happiness tell us that happiness is experienced by living in the moment with gratitude. Yet, this social-media-laden digital world we live in, with exaggerated portrayals of instant gratification, often leaves us feeling unfulfilled — and unhappy. This is largely because we unfavorably compare ourselves to those "super happy people."

All this to say, if you really want to feel happier, stop thinking you deserve to be happy. Here are three ways to actively rewire your brain to freely experience happiness and get you out of that dysfunctional "I deserve to be happy, too" mindset.

1. Be Grateful for What You Have

Gratitude is one of the most reliable ways to feel happiness. Unfortunately, however, I see many people who "find gratitude" but then get discouraged, claiming that it does not work because they can't hold onto it. For many years I thought that about myself, too. But happily, and I am quite grateful for this, I found three ways to make my gratitude drift away a lot less and stick around much more. Here are my suggestions:

Keep a gratitude journal or a gratitude jar. I used to keep a handwritten gratitude journal. Then I switched to using one of many gratitude apps that are available. After years of using the journals (handwritten and app forms) I switched to making and using a gratitude jar, which I keep on my desk. These activities will increase your sense of accountability and will help you internalize gratitude as part of your daily life. Do whichever ones work best for you.

Establish what I call "gratitude landmarks." For example, when I leave the gym and walk past the front desk, I remind myself of things I am grateful for. The front desk has become a programmed stimulus for me to think about all that I am thankful for in my life. Billboards on a road you travel or objects and areas in your home can reliably help you pause to feel gratitude in the same manner

Pass gratitude on to others. The more I share how much gratitude benefits me, the more people reinforce me for having an attitude of gratitude. This helps me to see myself as a person who serves gratitude to others, and maintaining this identity keeps me in my own place of gratitude too.

2. Focus on Your Strengths

Do you ever take time to positively view your talents, qualities, and accomplishments in life? It is easy to feel discouraged when things do not go well. Viewing your strengths creates a “can-do” attitude, which helps you gain optimism and confidence to push through challenges and overcome them. Here are some examples of strengths that may resonate to get you started?

Originality, perseverance, problem-solving, strong work ethic, teamwork, creativity, writing, asking for help, enthusiasm, reliability, trustworthiness, discipline, patience, quick learner, motivation, honesty, good communication, practical, flexibility, organization, detail-oriented, solid listening, open-mindedness, caring, leadership, seeing the big picture.

3. Have a Growth Mindset

When people hold a fixed mindset, learning new things can be seen as a threat because they may be worried about proving their ability or how they are perceived by others. This is especially the case when they fall short of desired goals.

In contrast, when you have a growth mindset, it means you are willing to take sensible, personal risks and strive to achieve goals. Consistent with having a growth mindset, there is significant power in stating “not yet” when you encounter those inevitable disappointments. This shows a willingness and eagerness to develop a skill. It also enables you to create a plan to move past obstacles or readjust your goals in ways that align with continued learning and growing.