Tips for Finding Happiness When It Seems Elusive

By Alishia Sullivan
Partner, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, LLP


Society overwhelms us with the notion that we should “feel happy”. Whether it’s companies bombarding us with the incessant advertising of products designed to bring us pleasure, social media influencers directing  us to toss out items that no longer  spark joy, or well-meaning friends and family who offer their opinion because they desire nothing more than for us to be content – the pressure to feel happy is on! 
As business leaders, we fervently hope that our colleagues are happy, so much so that we implement company policies that promote happiness.  While we know feeling happy is a good thing, it is not always achievable. Inevitably, we will face disappointment, tragedy and loss, a bad medical diagnosis, or the loss of a job or a loved one.  
So, what do we do when we land in a place where happiness seems elusive?  Based on my own experience I’ve learned to incorporate the following helpful tips into my daily routine:  
1. Remain Grateful! When happiness escapes me, I focus on gratitude. On social media, we celebrate beautiful photos of beaming families or friends enjoying exotic vacations, accompanied by #blessed.  Being grateful in simple moments primes us for the difficult times when reasons to feel grateful are inconceivable.  Covid-19 has given me time to pause daily, to appreciate each and every breath. 

2. Serve Others! I find purpose and reward in my professional life when I make my client’s concerns and goals my own. In my personal life, whether it’s supporting my children in their endeavours, listening to a friend navigating a rough patch, or welcoming a new neighbour, I appreciate and act upon opportunities to serve others.
3. Be Authentic! Much has been written about the importance of authenticity, and I agree that it is an important trait of an effective leader.  But, how do we show up as our authentic selves when we have suffered a transformative loss or disappointment?   Even at my worst I have learned how to express difficult emotions in a socially acceptable and healthy manner by acting in a manner that is consistent with my values.  To remain authentic during difficult times, be sure to lean on your support system, practice self-care, and focus on your purpose. 

4. Be Aware! Recognize when you’re pressured to feel happy by those closest to you. You can simply acknowledge it and remember that happy moments will soon come again. You should also notice how you might pressure others to feel happy.  We’re familiar with the old adage, “Time heals all wounds.”  But perhaps that isn’t quite true. Sometimes despite the passage of time and our best efforts, as author Megan Devine writes, we may be better served to acknowledge that “some things cannot be fixed; they can only be carried.”

This is what I know to be true… 
Nothing beats nature. During the pandemic I have relished the outdoors by taking long walks in my neighbourhood or a cup of coffee in my garden. I consider myself fortunate to live near the sea with an abundance of sand, sun and salty air to soothe my soul.
My favorite book is… 
Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon.  On its face, it explores the families of children with stigmatized conditions.  The essential question the book asks is, “to what extent should parents accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves.” Far from the Tree reaches far beyond parenting to convey a message about the beauty of accepting what is and the comforting premise that our diversity unites us all. 
My favorite quote is
“There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors.” ~ Adrienne Rich. It speaks to the importance of building a support system and of being an integral part of someone else’s support system.