“You deserve to be happy.”
A charming thought—and one you’ve probably heard countless times from confidants after expressing a desire to make some sort of change in your life: You want to break up with a boyfriend, you want to attend college 3,000 miles away from home, you want to make a risky career move, or you want to have a third baby.
“Go for it. You deserve to be happy,” everyone around you says.
It’s sweet. But it’s not enough.
I study mothers all around the world, and if there’s one thing I know to be true it’s this: People can tell you all day long that you deserve to be happy, but you’ll never make real and lasting change in your life until you believe that you deserve to be happy.
I was talking to my friend Molly the other day. Molly recently went through a messy divorce after 18 years of marriage. The trials and tribulations of the experience almost undid her. But she came out on the other side of the pain and she’s starting to shine bright again. What’s interesting is that Molly’s journey from unhappiness to happiness has, for better or worse, opened up a Pandora’s box full of the struggles of the people around her.
Because she works in a profession where she interacts with different kinds of people all day, every day, others have started whispering their own stories of unhappiness to her on a regular basis. “Psssst. Don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t been happy in years.”
Say what? Molly’s hearing this from women both young and old: women who want to change careers but can’t imagine taking the leap; women tied to lifestyles that drain their energy and enthusiasm; and women who make life decisions based on other people’s opinions instead of what they know they need for themselves. Like me, Molly’s hearing a half-dozen stories each week, stories of women living lives filled with suffering who feel powerless to change. More often than not, these women whisper their worries while darting their eyes from right to left, terrified that someone will hear them, that someone will find out the truth. So many women I encounter are unhappy, and they’re completely unwilling to admit that they’re unhappy. And that makes me unhappy. If you’re sad, I think you should say that you’re sad. Don’t say you’re fine: admit that you’re struggling. Truth begets truth.
When you tell the truth, you find your truth and then you find your happy.
If you want to make lasting change in your life, you need to start by saying your struggles out loud. We’re so fearful of what other people think of us, but I’ve learned firsthand that when you speak out and speak up, you win the peanut gallery’s support, not its judgment.
Here’s how it works.
Friend: Hi Allison, how’s it going?
Friend: Good, see you later.
Here’s how it should work:
Friend: Hi Allison, how’s it going?
Allison: Oh, I’m OK. But I’m having a rough time at work. I feel like I’ve ended up in the wrong career and I don’t know what to do about it.
Friend: Yikes. Good to know. Let’s grab a drink Friday night and plan your next move. I’m happy to help.
You’ll get the help and advice you deserve because by saying it out loud you’re proclaiming that you deserve it.
It’s my experience from studying all different kinds of mothers that we don’t get what we think we deserve because we don’t actually believe we deserve it.
And that’s why we keep quiet.
Try it. Out loud. Utter the words that your heart is telling your head every single day: I don’t like my job. I wish I were a better mother. I need to start eating better. I want to get out of this relationship. I haven’t been happy for years.
If you’re on the cusp of making a decision that will make you happy, say so.
This narrative is part of my own story. Two years ago I was terrified to start my own company, not because I was scared it would fail, but because I didn’t believe I deserved it. One day in the middle of all my indecision I had the following exchange with my very matter-of-fact husband.
Me: I feel like sometimes I don’t deserve the success I’ve achieved. I mean, why me?
Richard: Because you made it all happen.
Me: Oh. Right.
I didn’t believe I deserved the success I had achieved so I stayed in situations and scenarios that prevented me from living my best life. I kept quiet.
I deserve to be happy and so do you. But none of us can achieve happiness on the wing and the prayer of someone else’s well-wishes (“You deserve it!”).
Of course you deserve to be happy. But to achieve it you have to believe it.