Relief occurs when feelings of anxiety and stress fade away. It is the reduction of a negative.
Happiness occurs when the presence of joy exists within you and is broadcast to the outside world.
Do you live your life to seek happiness or merely relief?
They are NOT the same thing.
I'm a big proponent of being thoughtful and strategic about one's life. This means making decisions consciously as opposed to letting the momentum of life make your decisions for you.
A life well lived is built upon a life well examined.
To the extent you seek a life of joy, here are a few thoughts and tips on where joy comes from:
1) Joy can come from what you do with your time.
(The 80/20 secret: Spend at least part of your week doing things you find enjoyable. Do more things that feel like "play" to you.)
2) Joy can come from your relationships with others.
(Some relationships are conducive to joy, others to misery. Spend more time with the former and less with the latter. The hard part is combatting life momentum in making a change. If you've ever worked for a boss that's a jerk, you know what I mean.)
3) And finally, joy can come from your relationship with... yourself.
When you are in a good relationship with yourself, here's how you can tell:
1) The voice of your cold inner critic, the one that punishes you for every failure and mistake... the one that makes you feel less than your peers when you underperform.
When this voice is strong, you can experience relief from this kind of stress (via achievement) but never genuine joy. That's because the inner critic will shut down joy around anything less than perfection. And since perfection is not possible, joy is therefore not possible.
When you are in a good relationship with yourself, this voice of the critic is replaced with a second kind of voice...
2) The voice of warmth, nurture and compassion -- one that accepts your flaws, uses kind words with yourself, and supports you in encouraging ways.
Let's call the first voice the "inner critic."
Let's call the more nurturing second voice the "inner supporter."
Which voice is stronger in your head?
When the voice of the inner supporter > the voice of the inner critic, that's a healthy, self-accepting and therefore loving relationship you have with yourself.
Your capacity and desire for JOY will usually be high because there is actually room for joy in your life. Let's call this "self-acceptance."
When the voice of the inner critic > voice of the inner supporter, that's a less healthy and non-accepting relationship you have with yourself.
Your capacity and desire for RELIEF (from all the stress that comes with lack of self-acceptance) will usually be high. But your capacity for joy will be low, because you won't let yourself experience joy for anything less than being perfect. Since perfection is not possible, there's no room for joy in your life. Let's call this "self-hate."
Here's the big insight:
When self-hate > self-acceptance, you can experience relief from hate, but rarely lasting joy.
When you have a fundamental belief that you're "less than" or "not as good as" everyone else, the feelings that come from a negative self perception beg to be relieved.
Relief in this context comes from others in the form of praise, approval, prestigious job offers, status, and money.
This is why those who hate themselves more than they accept themselves are often surprised by how they feel after they succeed. They operate under the premise that "I will be happy when I ___________".
Happiness does not work that way. Happiness and joy do not operate in the future tense, but relief does.
I will feel relief when I make partner at McKinsey.
I will feel relief when I lose 15 lbs.
I will feel relief when I get married.
Joy describes a feeling in the present.
Today was a beautiful day spent with people I care about doing fun things. In this moment, right this second, I feel joyful.
THAT is joy.
If you want to enjoy your success more, and if you want to enjoy life even when you aren't necessarily succeeding, then work on improving your level of self-acceptance.
I recently taught a class on how to dramatically improve your self-acceptance and self-esteem. The two go hand in hand. If you missed it, click here to learn more about How to Develop Unshakeable Self-Esteem and Incredible Self Confidence.