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What Is It That Really Makes You Happy?
Written By: Mark Smith

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A client of mine posed a very important and provocative question in a session this week… ‘What is it that will fulfill me and truly make me happy?’ This is a question that he had not spent much time considering during the course of his lifetime. I do not think that he is unusual at all in that regard. I think that truly happy people who thoughtfully build extremely fulfilling lives are actually pretty rare. Most of us have some issues that prevent us from taking excellent care of our selves.

This fellow, I’ll call him Dave, has spent a lifetime being a caretaker. His roles were to be a good husband, a good father, a good employee, and a good church member. But he wasn’t happy or alive or connected to himself or his wife. His marriage was well intentioned; it looked good from a distance, but it was missing heart and soul. That is a recipe for disaster. It landed him and his wife on my therapy couch. As is always the case, the marriage wasn’t the problem. The problem was the two individuals in the marriage and their childhood wounds that they were reenacting in their marriage.

Dave is on fire now. He is exploring his lost creative self. He is asserting himself with his somewhat controlling wife. He is really enjoying group therapy. He is re-thinking the very foundation of who he is. He is joining a gym and taking up new hobbies. He is alive perhaps for the first time.

So, what lights your fire? Are you happy and fulfilled? My experience has been that if people aren’t happy and fulfilled, then they medicate themselves with something or someone to fill up their terrifying painful emptiness. There is an endless list of addictive substances: alcohol, drugs, work, sex, relationships, food, religion, reading, exercise, video games, TV, rescuing, controlling, children, cleaning, etc. If you aren’t truly happy and fulfilled in your heart of hearts, then what are you medicating yourself with?

Remember the movie ‘City Slickers’? Billy Crystal played a bored middle aged man who lost his passion for life. So his wife encouraged him to go try to find it at Cowboy camp. He ended up asking ‘Curly’, a rough cut scary cowboy played by Jack Palance (who won an Oscar for the performance) what the meaning of life was. Curley said just one thing was the meaning of life, but that one thing is different for us all. I would suggest that it might actually take a whole handful of things to offer a healthy, balanced fulfilling life. And that handful of things is different for us all.

For me it includes writing, playing basketball, motorcycling, work, relationships, music, family, and spirituality. If I maintain a steady diet of this handful of things I’m balanced and happy as a clam. If I quit doing the things that define me in my heart, I get into some trouble.

So I’ll ask again. What turns you on? What makes you happy? My father was not a happy man. Many years ago, with tears in his eyes, he told me that most of the ‘happiness’ that he got in life came from the TV set. That made me really sad for him. What about you? Who are you? What are the handful of things that define who you are and comprise your healthy self care list? I am not asking what you used to do. I am asking what you actually do to take care of yourself and give your life meaning.

If you do not know the answers to these questions you have some soul searching to do my friend. Nobody can make you happy but yourself. There isn’t a perfect spouse, a perfect job, a perfect house, or even a perfect religion that can answer all of the questions that you need to answer in order for you to figure yourself out and be happy. Life is hard. Most of us spend a lifetime trying to find answers to these questions.

If you don’t have the answers to these questions and you feel dead inside or your marriage feels lifeless, you had better do something about it pronto. You risk losing your marriage and worse, your soul, if you don’t address this. Sure, you could go to Cowboy camp and talk to Curley to figure it out. A more convenient and conventional approach might be to present yourself at the door of a talented and wise therapist. Life is too short. Be happy. Figure yourself out. See you next week.

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This article was authored by Family Tree Counseling Associates, a marriage, individual and family counseling center serving the Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communities in Indiana. If you would like to contact us, please fill out a contact us form or call us at 317-844-2442.
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