3 reasons why happiness is not enough

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Popular movies and books lead people to believe spies are coerced to work for the U.S. government. To be successful, the FBI agent resorts to either sheer force or extortion to goad the foreign spy to be cooperative.

Once beaten into submission, the free world is once again saved.

Yep, it’s a load of crap, and while it’s great entertainment, it misses the subtle truth of why most foreign spies decide to work for an FBI agent. At some point in the recruitment process, a successful counterintelligence agent will broker this important question: What do you want in life?

The need to answer that question rests within our core on what it means to be a human being.

Many of the spies I recruited to work for the FBI had come to the point in their life where they wanted their life to be about more than a paycheck, house, or fancy vacation. They were stuck in dead-end jobs and yoked to oppressive governments that dictated how they would live their life. Freedom of choice appealed to them, and often they welcomed the U.S. government’s offer to remove the shackles.

If we listen to popular culture, this is what we hear: pursue success because it will make you happy, pursue happiness because it’s the meaning of life.

Whoa.

Life is about more than fleeting moments of bliss. Aristotle would argue that our human nature requires us to pursue a life of meaning. Author David Brooks picks up on that same theme in Second Story Mountain when he argues that there are people who seem to know why they were put on this earth, who glow with a kind of inner light.

They don’t settle for happiness or other temporary emotions. They discover the things that are truly worth wanting, not the things other people tell them to want. It is, in fact, what sets us apart from animals.

No, it’s not enough to always be happy. The sooner you come to terms with this simple fact of life, the sooner you begin the journey toward a life of value and meaning.

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live”—Norman Cousins

Here’s 3 reasons why happiness is not enough. You need to:

1. Experience ALL Of Your Emotions

We’re surrounded by self-help books and TED talks that admonish us to stay positive at all costs. That brings us to the point—at all cost. As a result, we bury unpleasant emotions in food, alcohol, drugs, sex, busy-ness, and other behaviors that can be detrimental to our health.

In case you haven’t noticed—we live in a culture that values positive emotions above the more negative ones.

The ability to suppress negative emotions like anger is not a sign we are emotionally healthy. We cannot numb an emotion because it’s unpleasant; when you fight a feeling, it only gets stronger.

Every emotion is a response in our brain to something that’s happened in our environment. It does no good to pretend the situation we’re in doesn’t exist. Often, our emotions are the incentive that motivates us to do something about it. All emotions, both happy and sad, can motivate us to take appropriate action.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion”—Dale Carnegie

It takes mental toughness to step back and ponder how to make an appropriate response, not a knee-jerk emotional one.

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How To Make It Work For You: If you experience a negative emotion, do the following: observe it, name it for what it is (don’t sugar-coat it), trace its origins, and sit with it. Studies have found that people can cope with unwanted emotions if they imagine the situation as an impartial observer. Find ways to modify your response—so you can exercise power over how you respond to the negative emotion.

2. Upgrade Your Resilience Skills

Studies have shown that people who experience and understand their full range of emotions are better equipped to be resilient when faced with adversity.

It was the job of my coaches at the FBI Academy to make sure I faced adversity and roadblocks everyday of my four month training. After I satisfied myself I hadn’t joined the ranks of a bunch of sadists, I realized the real purpose of the daily losses, and gains, was to create self-awareness. If I lost, I could choose to crumble into a pity puddle, or I could choose to figure out how to cut the throat of the beast next time.

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived”—Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

Over time, I could recognize the trigger behind the emotion, either negative and positive. Once I knew what made me feel a certain way, I could choose my response to it.

How To Make It Work For You: Become more self-aware because it will give you the ability to monitor your inner world, thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Self-awareness allows you to identify what’s caused you stress and pinpoint how it was triggered so you can choose your reaction.

3. Tease Out Your Character

FBI interrogation seminars taught me how to recognize the details of a person’s personality, features that are easy to pick out once you know what you’re looking for.

Character, on the other hand, takes longer to figure out because it is a deep-seated trait that is the product of our belief system. It is the product of our experiences and the sad truth is that we need both good and bad ones to develop our character.

Aristotle would remind us that the best way to grow as a human being is to develop character. We need to feel the right kind of emotions at the right time, and these will guide our behavior.

Character requires you to have a deep understanding of what makes you tick so you can follow your calling and create a richer life.

“I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character”—Oscar Wilde

How To Make It Work For You: Emotions come and go whether we want them to or not. They need proper oversight so they don’t sabotage your best efforts to move forward. Instead of trying to increase your pleasure in life, seek to become a better person and do the right thing.

And that takes more than happiness.

This article first appeared on LaRaeQuy.com.