“Stop doing anything that doesn’t make you happy. Life’s too short to be unhappy.”
I’ve seen this sentiment (or a version of it) popping up on social media for years. There’s a good chance that I have shared it myself. I’ve certainly spoken words with the same general meaning.
Recently, I started thinking more about this advice. Should we really stop doing anything that doesn’t make us happy?
My short answer: No.
Here’s why I don’t think we should stop doing anything that doesn’t make us happy:
Short-term Happiness vs Long-term Happiness
First of all, there’s a difference between short-term happiness (“this makes me feel good today”) and long-term happiness (“this will make me feel good someday”).
Making this distinction is important.
I do a lot of things that don’t make me happy— at least they don’t make me happy right away.
For example, I exercise daily. Most days, I would rather do almost anything else, such as sleep. Sleeping makes me very happy. But if I slept in every day, I wouldn’t get to enjoy the effects of my daily workout. I would have less energy, I wouldn’t be as strong, and I would probably weigh about 20lbs more. Having energy, being strong, and being comfortable with my weight—those things also make me happy, just not immediately. I have to do daily work to enjoy this kind of happiness.
Same goes with budgeting. I hate doing it, so for years I just paid the bills and hoped for the best. As a result, we lived paycheck to (almost) paycheck. Now, I may not be happy as I budget and plan for the weeks ahead, but I’m happier in the long run when I feel in control of my finances.
I bet if most people “quit anything that doesn’t make them happy,” they’d be quitting their jobs on the spot. Most people aren’t happy at work. This is a sad reality that I believe needs to change, but quitting your job tomorrow is probably not the best answer. Creating a plan, saving money, job searching, and giving a two weeks notice when it is time to leave — that’s a better idea for most of us.
If you believe, “life’s too short to be unhappy,” be sure that you keep long-term happiness in mind and don’t focus solely on “What will make me happy right now?” It’s important to do some of the necessary, albeit mundane tasks that set us up for a better future.
Of course, short-term happiness can have a place in our lives. I love to play “Go Fish” with my two oldest girls. It feels good and it makes me happy immediately. I also love to read, drink coffee, get fresh air, watch my kids play, and nap. I make time for all of those things, because they keep me feeling my best and help me to be the best mom possible.
So, don’t disregard today’s happiness entirely. A happy mom helps create a happier family for today and tomorrow.
Just beware of doing too much pleasure-seeking. Temporary “highs” can come from drugs, food, shopping, the internet, or plenty of other sources. And while this kind of pleasure-seeking might feel good today— when it’s all you do— it’s a recipe for emptiness and misery.
I don’t reject the notion of “quitting” things entirely. I’m guessing that what most people mean when they say, “Stop doing anything that doesn’t make you happy,” is that we all have things we need to stop doing. Most of us need to majorly cut back on the amount of responsibilities we have, especially the ones that make us miserable. It is good advice to an extent. After all, much of what we do is unnecessary. We are draining ourselves in activities that we could quit tomorrow, but we feel obligated towards. Having healthy boundaries in place is extremely important to living a balanced life.
Maybe you’re pouring yourself into throwing amazing parties for your kids and it’s stretching you mentally and financially. Knock that crap off. On the other hand, if you are a crafty mom who loves planning intricate parties with Pinterest-worthy details—do your thing, Momma.
Maybe you’re volunteering for every activity under the sun, leaving you with little time to be with your family or (imagine this!) time to yourself. You don’t have to quit volunteering for everything tomorrow, but it’s probably best to cut back. Leave margin in your schedule and in between your commitments.
In summary: Quit doing things that are draining you and stealing your joy. Do more of the things that make your heart happy and align with your values. But don’t neglect your future goals. Make time for the lackluster activities that will make your future brighter.
A Message to my Christian Friends:
If you’re a Christian like I am, then you believe that life isn’t all about being happy. Your life isn’t all about you. Your life is about serving God and serving others, which sometimes will require doing things that don’t make you happy. Sometimes, God might ask you to do something that is pretty darn uncomfortable. Jonah is a great example of this. If we’re overly concerned about how we feel, then we aren’t obeying. We aren’t putting others before ourselves. We are living only to serve our own desires, which is not our calling.
That doesn’t mean being a Christ-follower dooms you to a life of unhappiness—quite the opposite is true for me. I’m happy to be living for more than just me and my own pleasure. And fortunately, I think God calls us to serve in areas where we are spiritually gifted, and often that fills us up and ultimately makes us very happy. Thank you, Lord!
In the end, it should be your values that help you make your decisions. Some things deserve for your yes, others should get a no. If your own happiness is at the center of your values (although I would argue that it shouldn’t be), keep in mind that not all happiness is created equal. If you’re a Christian, then you should be weighing your decisions against your faith. Use your discretion, dig into the Bible, and don’t be afraid to ask for Godly counsel when needed. Be intentional about how you spend your time and your energy. They are limited resources. Be smart about how you spend them.
What are some things in your life that you’re doing that you know you should quit?
Are there some habits that you want to put into place to give you a happier tomorrow (examples: Exercising, meal prepping, budgeting, reading personal development)?
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