What makes people happy?

by Shannon Talbot

In our culture, we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love – Brene Brown

For the longest time I thought happiness centred around two main areas: family and career. If I had the husband, the kids, the house, the dog and climbed the corporate ladder I would be happy. I even had ages in mind by when I wanted to accomplish each and for the most part, I did, with a few bumps along the way as we all have. On paper, everything was perfect. At the age of 38, I even bought my dream car (my very first car). A red Audi (used of course as I just can’t imagine forking over the money for a new one). I had wanted a red Audi since I entered the working world at age 23. I moved up the career ladder and excelled in my jobs. When I found something lacking in my career, I made a move to get it.


But here’s the thing, as my kids grew so did their needs and as my career grew, so did the stress and the demands. I threw myself into both which meant putting myself on the back burner. And when I refer to myself, I’m referring to my overall wellbeing, physical and mental, my personal interests and my dreams.


At age 36 I was burnt out. I was burning the candle at both ends but without an end in sight. Something was missing. I dreaded waking up during the week and found myself exhausted on the weekends and not as fun or energetic as I wanted to be for my kids. What did I do? I switched jobs.


While each switch was great at first, eventually I found myself back to where I was – in search of something more. In search of happiness.


So, I turned to the professionals. I worked with coaches and a therapist and I turned to happiness experts. I watched Ted Talks and I read books about happiness. And I found it. The missing ingredient.


Me.


Somewhere along the road of being all of the different roles – wife, mom, professional, manager - I lost myself. I lost who Shannon was and not only what she wanted, but what she enjoyed.


I lost my authenticity as I was constantly caught up in my “role” and how my “role” should act, especially if I wanted to get ahead in the corporate world.


I lost how to play and have fun.


I lost how to be in the moment.


The crazy thing was years ago I’d heard and read about what makes people happy, but I wasn’t ready for it then.


So, what makes people truly happy?


Good relationships.


Not the amount of money or number of friends that you have, but the quality of your close relationships.


Good relationships keep us healthier and happier and have been scientifically proven to protect our brains. A 75-year Harvard study that followed the lives of 724 men through interviews, medical records, blood samples, brain scans and interviews with their children have proved that those who were most satisfied with their relationships at age 50, were the healthiest at age 80.


This caused me to pause, especially in my case where I had good relationships and incredible people in my life I could count on.


While I have an incredible family, friends, co-workers and mentors, what was missing was, yet again, ME! Bringing my whole self to my relationships, personal and professional. My authentic self. Opening up about my dreams, fears, likes and dislikes. Saying no more. Saying yes more. Sharing my opinion when it was a touchy subject. Sharing my setbacks and my successes. Being silly and having fun in the moment. Being vulnerable.


Being vulnerable is hard, scary and uncomfortable but I’ve come to realize that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. And guess what? Vulnerability breeds vulnerability. The armour can come off on both sides and relationships can deepen.


With the armour and inauthenticity removed, I have more energy - more energy to play and have fun with the people that matter in my life, to be present in the moment in all of my relationships and to actually enjoy my career. I’m way more invested in my relationships and they’ve deepened as a result. And now when I get into my bright red car, I open my sunroof, crank the tunes and smile knowing I’ve finally found true happiness and it was inside me all along.



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