I’ve heard from many people – especially in corporate America – that they’ve been encouraged to focus on their weaknesses and become more well-rounded. More “balanced”. I’ve even heard things like this: I took XYZ test and it said ‘I’m too Red’ or ‘I’m too Yellow’. That sounds so funny to me. And of course I know what’s behind “too much yellow” or “too much red” (probably too outspoken, or doesn’t speak up enough, or too analytical, or not analytical enough).
Well, I call bullshit on this whole premise.
I believe you must Be yourself to be happy.
That doesn’t mean you have the right to be a narcissistic, inconsiderate asshole; it means you get to relentlessly pursue a full life that is reflective of who you are individually.
How do we do this, though? Especially with all the noise (media, comparisons to peers, performance reviews) about who we’re “supposed” to be?
The truth is this: while it should be effortless to be you, it takes hard work to build a full life that reflects you and translates to authentic happiness.
First, it’s getting to know yourself a bit better, by asking yourself a lot of questions.
Who is the best version of you?
What are the components of a life that reflects you?
What character strengths need nurturing every day?
Is there any activity you do that causes you to lose track of time?
Historically, when have you been happiest? What were you doing at that moment?
There are 4 major natural “happy chemicals” that can be triggered based on our individual choices and actions.
Ideally, we want more of this, more often…
1. dopamine – this chemical, or surge of pleasure, is released when we achieve goals. Setting long term goals, with short term steps allows for continued release of dopamine as we celebrate the “little wins“.
2. serotonin – when this chemical is released, you feel important or significant (people who are depressed often have low levels of serotonin and most often, this is the chemical anti-depressants produce)
3. oxytocin – this chemical is released during sex, orgasm, child birth and breastfeeding. It creates trust and intimacy and connection. If none of the above are available or of interest to you, hugs are a great, easy, quick way to get a boost of oxytocin.
4. endorphins – this chemical is released to combat pain and stress and works by diminishing our perception of pain. Exercise and laughter are healthy ways to release endorphins.
Broadly, a happy life includes:
– love and connection to others
– something to do, that’s purpose based
– individual passions with challenges
All of these ensure the release of the 4 happy chemicals, however, HOW you get there looks different for each individual.
A good way to answer some of those questions is to figure out your own character strengths.
In other words, learn what feeds your value (yay more serotonin!!!).
An easy way to understand your character strengths (which are different than talents), is to take the VIA Character Strengths test on the Authentic Happiness website:
From here you can better direct your limited, valuable energy. Which will then translate into goals and achievement and purpose (yay more dopamine!).
As an individual, I need to utilize the following character strengths to be truly happy: emotional intelligence, authenticity, bravery, love of learning, and zest/enthusiasm/energy.
For the past 2 years, I’ve been growing a human child (huge long-term challenge/goal) but realized I needed more short-term wins, and variety and validation. (more hits of dopamine)
I’ve been doing a job that supports my purpose; coaching &consulting allows me to be of service by utilizing my character strengths (emotional intelligence, authenticity, love of learning, enthusiasm). However, I realized I needed more connection to group dynamic and larger communities. (more hits of serotonin and oxytocin)
And I also need physical gratification. I’m someone who likes to move, who has an excess of physical energy, and LOVES runner’s high (endorphins!!!).
To ensure I’m leading a life that’s reflective of me, and gratifying because I’m utilizing my character strengths, I’m adding in two new components:
1. I’m looking to join a recreational league soccer team. This will address my need for short term wins (you literally win or lose each time you play a game, so a serious opportunity for dopamine), being an integral part of a group (oxytocin via human connection & serotonin via being valued piece of something bigger). Lastly, soccer will certainly give me hits of endorphins from the physical exercise.
2. I have signed up to take a class. This will force more connection (oxytocin) and pleasure from achieving (dopamine). And like a soccer team, if I become an integral part of the class, this would give me a sense that I’m valued, and my serotonin levels will likely spike.
Which of my top 5 character strengths would I be using in both these instances?
Love of learning, for sure. A class is designed around learning and I’ll likely learn more soccer skills, being on a team of varying experiences and skills. Not to mention learning about new people, which I love!
Emotional Intelligence – you’ve got to get along with others to have a successful team or class dynamic. You have to understand and empathize and relate in new and potentially challenging ways.
Bravery – I don’t care how old you get or how extroverted you are – joining a new team or a new class takes bravery. It’s full of unknowns. Will they like me? Will I like them? Will it be beneficial? Will I fit in? Will I get what I hope out of it? Because a group dynamic is only formed once it’s formed, and made up of unrelated parts, it’s unpredictable by its very nature.
Zest/Enthusiasm/Energy – you exert tons of physical energy playing soccer. And my enthusiasm for the class topic should also support this strength.
Authenticity – if I’m checking off all the other character strengths boxes, then these activities will support my authenticity, which is super important to me.
Enough about me…
If appreciation of beauty, creativity & kindness are three of your biggest character strengths, then a soccer match probably isn’t going to light you up; however, possibly a painting class would meet all of those needs? What does authentic happiness look like?
And regarding this notion of “balance” that everyone is so hot on… again, I call bullshit. The only balance you need is figuring out how to decompress and refuel so you can then get back to being 100% YOU, in all your individual glory. For me, it’s naps and meditation. What about you?