Growing up, I didn't think about happiness. I wasn't encouraged to. I can't fault my parents for this because considering happiness may have been implied. After all, who wouldn't think about their happiness or ask themselves, "Am I happy?"
Maybe I didn't think about it because happiness didn't really require thinking as a child. I knew I was happy when I got to stay up late and watch TV or ride my bike farther than the day before. I knew I was unhappy when I scraped my knee. Being happy was attached to more everyday topical things.
I do think though that there is a gulf between adolescence and adulthood where we don't actively think about happiness, but should. As someone in her late 30s, I now run into a lot of material on happiness and recovering it.
The volume of research, writing, and general work on happiness grows exponentially as one ages, and it's always framed in a problem of deficit: how to be happier or have more joy and fulfillment.
So I wonder: if this is a problem that plagues people as they get older, why do we wait so long to instill a sense of and regard for happiness? Why do we wait until middle age to consider happiness as a key health and development factor?
What are we waiting for?
I don't think we encourage young people to be happy. Happiness is thought of as frivolous or a privilege you have to earn. I think a lot of this has to do with unfortunate attitudes we have around work and paying dues. Unhappiness is a debt you have to pay to be in the work or real world club.
Despite all of the research and intellectual strides we've made around wellness and happiness being critical for personal and economic growth, the prevailing attitude is that "work is work." You shouldn't be surprised if you hate what you do on a daily basis. If anything, you should maybe expect it.
I find this disgusting and troublesome, and I know that even my ability to declare this comes from a place of privilege. But that's the problem! We should all feel entitled to happiness.
But before this balloons into a philosophical debate between me, myself, and I, I'll just say this: consider your happiness, even if your consideration is comprised of passive observations you can't do anything about right now.
Maybe you're young and just found your first job after college. Maybe it's terrible. I've had terrible jobs that I've stuck with because they came with other rewards: friends, a paycheck, and a place to go everyday. All of these things are valuable.
More importantly, the knowledge that you hate something is very valuable. It is a guide. I have found that closing doors is often (if not always) far more clarifying than having too many open. But keep noticing if you're happy or not because it's an important barometer for success.
Honor your urge to be happy
Unhappiness is unsustainable in life and business. We all have that primal force within us to chase the invisible in order to be happy. I think that is why so many people quit jobs without a plan. Young people are especially rejecting certain jobs in droves.
Some may call this irresponsible or lazy. I've called myself irresponsible for doing this. What I've come to realize though is that it can be courageous and justified.
Demanding more or realizing that being happy is a right isn't irresponsible, and an employer who won't meet you at least halfway in your quest to be happy doesn't deserve you.
In conclusion (because I was supposed to wrap this up a few paragraphs ago), happiness is not a liability, and I'm tired of the old guard perpetuating this notion that young people need to accept unhappiness as their lot while they build their careers and lives.
You do need to embrace struggle. I'm not discounting the importance of that. What I'm pushing is the right kind of struggle, which is the deep yearning for fulfillment that we all have within us waiting to be honored.