What Does it Take to Be Happy?

It seems like almost everyone I know is depressed, anxious or otherwise unsatisfied.

Most of my friends and colleagues are in their mid-40s so perhaps this is a symptom of middle age. My middle-aged friends and I all have big responsibilities - kids, mortgages, families, debts, careers - and short money. This is all happening while we are nearing the pinnacle of our careers. The stark realization that THIS IS IT is beginning to sink in.

In your 20s and 30s you are ambitious and building for a better future. In your 40s your constraints multiply and your future becomes your present. If your present isn't what you anticipated it would be a decade ago, you're bound to develop some kind of psychological issues. And how many of us are where we thought we'd be? Probably not many.

For the most part, you either have a great career and a nonexistent (or neglected) family or a great family and a soul-sucking job.

Still, I realize that I probably lead a life considered decadent to much of the world's population. But it's hard to extract myself from my situation long enough to be grateful. Satisfaction is not innate to the human condition. However, there are richly satisfied people out there. So what does it take to be happy?

Drugs? Therapy? Idiocy?

Or are they playing a game and faking it? I swear to god, I have colleagues that practically prance around the office with a shit-eating grin. I'm sure those people go home each day and beat their spouses. Or maybe they don't and they're just as irritatingly effervescent at home. I'm not sure which is worse.

I'm beginning to realize that there is a class of people out there that must train themselves to be happy. Progress begins when you stop expending mental energy on the things you can't change and start redirecting it to the things you can. I'm not saying not to take pride in your responsibilities. Rather, take more pride in the responsibilities you can actually nurture into something meaningful. And accept that longer term goals sometimes are achieved by completing soul-sucking and seemingly meaningless near term actions.

If there's any consolation for my middle-aged friends, it's that research shows people get happier as they transition into their 50s. Responsibilities recede and financial security improves. Moreover, people in their 50s probably have trained themselves to be happy over the years. They've had to. To survive.

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