The True Price Of Happiness

Last week, while sitting in traffic, I noticed an odd sensation wash over me. I was 45 minutes into what would ultimately be a 90-minute commute, and I initially thought I was feeling a sense of resignation. I, like many in the Seattle area, have learned to accept the fact that obscene traffic has simply become a way of life. (My 90-minute commute was for a lousy 12 miles – and only takes 15 minutes if I leave before 6 am or after 10 pm.)

But as I sat with the feeling, I realized it was something else… something vaguely familiar… something long-forgotten… a sense of peace.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that, despite my reputation, the “Happy Calories Girl” is not always happy. I’ve got a very rich emotional life – I am Italian, after all… And, as an actress, it is in my best interest to have all of my emotions readily accessible at a moment’s notice.

But for the last few years – despite my best efforts – peace was nowhere to be found. I had been involved in a situation that had taken a heavy emotional, spiritual and financial toll. And on that commute home, I discovered the true price of happiness.

Oftentimes when we think of the “price” of something, we think of the work we have to do to get or achieve said thing. For example, we might think the “price” of a promotion is a 70-hour workweek. Or we might think the “price” of a great body is spending hours at the gym.

It is no different in the self-help world. We understand that happiness takes work – it comes at a “price.” There are actions we must take – responsibilities we must accept – feelings we must feel – to fully engage with Life on Life’s terms. We know that Life has its ups and downs, and we know that it takes work to transform our negative experiences and emotions into a state of peace and happiness.

We understand that happiness is a decision that we make – that we must make a conscious choice to be happy. We choose to look on the bright side of a situation – and this may not always be easy. To look at situations from another point of view can take emotional discipline, energy and effort. It can take time and energy to express and release our emotions in a positive and constructive way. It can be very difficult to forgive others who have harmed us. And it can take courage to ask for forgiveness when we, ourselves, are the ones responsible for a negative situation. But when we “pay the price” and do the emotional, psychological and spiritual work to transform our experiences, deep and authentic happiness can be ours.

Or so pop culture self-help psychology says…

As a self-help professional myself, I teach these skills and principles to my clients. And, despite my own proficiency and wisdom, none of this had helped me feel better about my own situation. I had looked on the bright side six ways to Sunday. I had screamed and cried and beat pillows. I had sought help from a professional therapist. I had forgiven anything and anyone there was to forgive. And none of it had helped me find peace – until that moment in traffic.

As I felt that strange, long-forgotten sensation wash over me I realized another meaning of “price.” A price isn’t always something you pay. Sometimes a price is something you give up.

Sitting in traffic, I had already given up any hope of getting home in any sort of timely fashion. And then I realized that I had also given something else up – I had given up feeling bad.

Ultimately, feeling bad was the “price” I had to pay to find happiness. It was not that I had to feel bad in order to find happiness. Feeling bad certainly is not a prerequisite to feeling happy. Rather, it was that I had to give up feeling bad in order to be happy.

Now this may sound like a complete no-brainer. Moreover, it is a principle that I teach my own coaching clients. However, sometimes when we’ve been feeling bad for a long time, it can be very difficult to let go of the pain. To simply “give it up” can seem like negating or invalidating the experience or situation that caused our unhappiness in the first place. This is especially true if we’ve been grieving. To simply let go of our pain can feel like we’re saying the loss wasn’t real. And in other situations, it can be hard to “let it go” because we were in the “right.” When this is the case, A Course in Miracles puts it best: Do you prefer that you be right or happy? And sometimes, we struggle because we don’t even realize that we are the ones still holding on to the pain.

So yes, happiness is a choice. Yes, Life is full of ups and downs. Yes, it takes emotional, psychological and spiritual work to transform negative emotions and experiences into positive ones. But at the end of the day, after we’ve done all the other work, we can come to see that the true “price” of happiness is simply unhappiness.