Why be happy when you could be normal?

This is the title of a book by Jeannette Winterson

The book is about the pursuit of happiness, lessons in love, the search for a mother and a journey into madness and out again. It is generous, honest and true. That’s the way I like books.

That’s the way I think we should all live: generous, honest and true.

And it is a hard pursuit.

Because along that pursuit lies another pursuit we all have.

The pursuit of happiness.

‘To be happy’ means different things to different people, but I think it has a common denominator:

We all want to be seen, or heard, or understood, or validated. We all want to be loved.

When you live your generous, honest and true life though, you come across situations where you have to choose:

  1. Am I going to be true to myself and maybe hurt, disappoint, or loose others along the way, or
  2. Am I going to deny myself for the sake of other people’s love and happiness (and possibly disappoint and loose myself along the way)

And yes, there is a whole gray area of nuances in-between those two. And sometimes you need to know how to expertly sail between the them.

Because we do not live on a deserted island. We are not alone in this world and have to ‘make it work’ with other people in our lives. People we often did not choose to be around (at work for example). But even, or should I say – especially – with the people we did choose to have in our lives, it is not always easy. Relationships and friendships are full of compromises. And compromises should not be made if happiness, love and true selves get lost along the way.

Opportunity cost

Following your heart’s desires in the vast social webs that keep such desires in check is no easy task. We often spend our life avoiding something economists call opportunity cost. Whenever we choose one course of action, we rule out others. Giving up those other options is the opportunity cost of any decision.

And we don’t like to give things up.

So we stay in indecision. Because if we don’t decide, at least nothing bad will happen, right?

Wrong.

Indecision is like a prison. Because when we are unwilling to limit our future opportunities even slightly, we are never really able to enjoy the opportunities we have.

So there are choices to be made. And opportunity costs to be evaluated.

Decision making

Making decisions is hard because you need to do two things:

  1. listen to your emotions
  2. make rational calculations

You can of course make decisions based on either one alone. But trust me, you won’t be happy with your decision. People with brain damage who can make rational calculations but can no longer process their emotions become pathologically indecisive and can spend hours deciding what to wear. And it is impossible to base your decision solely on rationally calculated opportunity costs, because life is unpredictable.

There are 4 kinds of people when it comes to decision making:

  1. Gut over brain: make fast decisions with little information. Risky, but at least they get somewhere.
  2. Not trusting either one: follow the path of least resistance. Not optimal, but not paralyzing either.
  3. Trusting both intellect and instinct: gather information until they feel they can make a good decision
  4. Brain over gut: endlessly compare, insist that more knowledge will make their choice clearer. It won’t.

Lucky for you, there are two simple steps to help you make better decisions.

Getting unstuck

In yoga or any other sport, we are always taught to listen to our body for it knows best. How far can we bend? How far can we run? This is also true in life. When we push ourselves too much or too hard or go into the wrong direction, our bodies get stressed, or sick or both. So remember this:

“The body truth goes ahead of the mind lie.”

When we are indecisive, our brain tries to get the upper hand. it wants to be sure. It wants to keep our options open. It wants you to considers all pros and cons. Our body however, silently keeps telling the same message and all we have to do is listen.

Picture the following 4 situations:

  1. You said yes and regretted it later.
  2. You said no and later wished you’d said yes.
  3. You said no and were later relieved that you said no.
  4. You said yes to something and it was a great choice.

For each of them, describe the feelings, emotionally and physically, you were having.

In general, the feelings of any unwise decision will be consistent, whether your choice was a yes or a no. A wise yes or a wise no will have the same ‘body truth’. Get to know them, become aware of them and learn how to recognize them and tell them apart.

Think about a decision you need to make today. Where to buy groceries. Whether to apologize to a friend. etc. Try to feel which choice your body wants to make. Think about the option and look at your physical reactions. Are your shoulders easing, your lungs opening? If your body doesn’t want to go there, it will clam up and become tense.

Yes but…

Even if we know how to listen to our bodies, read our feelings correctly, we often find ourselves overwhelmed by our many big decisions. It’s a blur and nothing feels right and we just want to hide and eat chocolate.

Any decision, even one where we listen to our bodies and our minds and have aligned all things that need to be aligned, is a wrong decision if we are not in the present moment. If all our energy is going into all sorts of things except our best life, there is no way in hell you will be able to make a good decision.

Stop, breathe, take a break. Take a helicopter view. Does your life look and feel meaningful and on purpose right now? Yes? Good. You’re investing your energy right.

Do you feel miserable? Then your energy needs to be looked at and reinvested. Get out of that misery by making a choice.

Any choice. Move forward, do something.

If you still feel miserable afterwards, choose again. Misery is simply life asking you to change your course of action, to sail somewhere else because you are not on the right path, you’re not following your heart’s desire.

This is fo course no guarantee. Things will go wrong, you will make wrong decisions along the right ones. But what is guaranteed is that you will get either success or education.

Additional reading: Finding your own north starMartha Beck