Real talk: you can’t ‘lifehack’ your way to happiness

Lifehacks are great! Productivity tips are wonderful! But they can't change the reality of your life or who you are. Sometimes we need more help than a bullet journal can provide.

If you had to guess – how many times have you clicked on a headline that says something like 53 Ways To Organize Your Closet So You’ll Reach Nirvana? Or Meal Plan Your Way To Personal Enlightenment? Or maybe You’ll Love Your Life If You Can Just Outsource More Of It?

I probably clicked on all of those. I probably clicked on all of them and tucked them in my favorites folder and tried to implement them.

I’m sure I marched around my kitchen chopping vegetables and rifled through my closet, clutching every item of clothing to my chest, trying to decipher if it “sparked joy.” I’m sure I announced to my husband “So, I’ve got this new thing I’m doing.”

I love a good lifehack.

I love learning those tiny-but-impactful tips that free up time and make life run a bit smoother. Every time I learn a new lifehack – how to make decisions easier, how to snowball your debt payments – I tell you guys about it.

And when the rest of your life is going pretty well, those little lifehacks can make an already-pretty-good life into a better-and-easier life.

Lifehacks can create more space to do the things that we love, to spend time with our friends and family, to enjoy the city and space where we live.

But here’s the thing:
Lifehacks can't (& won't) change your intrinsic character or the reality of your life. Click To Tweet

Curating the perfect capsule wardrobe can’t make us love our bodies or get past the unkind things an ex said about our hips. It just means that we have carefully chosen, coordinating outfits that we feel self-conscious in.

Meal planning and prepping everything we put in our mouths won’t do anything for disordered eating or an unhealthy relationship with food. Now we’ve just meticulously planned the meals we’re going to feel bad about.

Mapping out the perfect date night and hacking our Google calendar can’t heal an ill-fitting relationship. It just gives us more time to spend with someone who isn’t right for us.

But those lifehacks feel actionable and productive!

And they’re so much easier than, you know, finding a therapist or admitting we have a problem or ending the fine-but-not-great relationship.

It’s easier to obsess over The Perfect Pre-work Morning Routine than acknowledge that we hate our job and we’ve been burnt out for years.

It’s easier to rearrange our cupboards and closets than address a shopping issue. It’s easier to fine tune minutia than deal with big, scary, deep-seated issues.

I know you know this, but personal fulfillment won’t come from a listicle. It probably doesn’t come from a perfectly organized schedule, a freezer full of pre-portioned soups, or a capsule wardrobe.

Personal fulfillment comes from making peace with who we are, surrounding ourselves with people who lift us up, and doing hard, important things.

Those productivity and organizational tips give us more time and space to do these things, but they’re not going to do the hard work. That’s up to us. 

P.S. Did you know I have a (free) private Facebook group dedicated solely to the topics of money and happiness? And the stuff we talk about has helped members change jobs, save thousands of dollars, and fight less with their partners? Join us!

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  1. KS

    Thank you for saying this! I find myself wanting to gently say these things to friends who are on a new plan every week.
    The dark side to some of this glossy positive psychology is telling people it will be a quick and easy fix. In reality sometimes we just have to slog through the mud!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! Which isn’t nearly as fun/glamorous as buying a new wardrobe from Everlane 😉

  2. Katie

    I teared up when I read “Personal fulfillment comes from making peace with who we are, surrounding ourselves with people who lift us up, and doing hard, important things.”

    THIS. This is what I’ve spent the past few months (years) figuring out, and it is just so validating to see it written out in a sentence.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      <3 <3 <3 !!!

  3. Aysha

    THANK YOU SARAH! I’ve been really trying to dig into myself and reconcile my discontent – thinking that the perfect solution is buried in my Pinterest boards. I feel like I keep trying to revert back to a time where I was more at peace with myself and completely focused. I haven’t felt that sense in such a few months – I’m overwhelmed by the changes in my life (good changes! promotions! new house!) and haven’t been able to get back into my groove. Things used to feel much simpler. Your words are giving me the power to really stop and examine the source of my own frustration and express gratitude for where I’m at. Thank you so much for your writing – I’m so happy that you choose to share all of your stories with us. Your words always ground me and give me that inner strength to really look into myself and fix what I don’t like/make peace with what I can’t change.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh my gosh, thank you so much for those kind words, Aysha. I can assure you, this epiphany has come from my own personal slew of changes and my own attempts to ‘lifehack’ them into some semblance of order … when really the ‘solution’ is “calm down, be gentle with yourself, and give yourself an effing minute to get used to your new life.” Meal planning doesn’t solve every problem, you know? 😉

  4. Deborah

    Thank you for saying this! I was talking about this the other day with someone, and I was worried it was just me being cynical. But the way you’ve put it in this post hits the nail on the head. The idea of finding true happiness if we just pin or tweet that platitude, or if we just perfect that morning routine, is unrealistic and can sometimes end up being nothing more than a distraction from what’s really troubling us. Although, having said that, bobby pins in Tictac containers for travel…genius hahaha

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! Also, mounting a magnetic strip on the inside of the bathroom cabinet door for bobby pins and barettes!

  5. Cailee

    This is so great! I think you can also make an argument that’s the opposite side of the same coin: that ignoring life hacks that don’t apply to you is totally cool too!

    For instance: all my friends are into the whole capsule wardrobe thing and cleaning out their closets every five damn minutes. I, however, am over here hoarding my collection of vintage dresses and sequins and tacky costume jewelry because it all makes me SO FREAKING HAPPY! Just because simplicity is the trendy lifestyle du jour doesn’t mean I have to throw out all my things if I like my things, and that’s AOK too!

    Thanks Sarah, as always, for condensing my thoughts better than I ever could <3

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I totally feel you! I have a small wardrobe but it’s all pretty brightly colored and patterned – something which you never really see in capsule wardrobes online. AND I CARE NOT.

  6. lulu

    Needed to hear that today. Thanks, lady!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Thanks for reading, Lulu! <3

  7. marie

    What they all said, fat better than me. Love this post! When you said “Personal fulfillment comes from making peace with who we are, surrounding ourselves with people who lift us up, and doing hard, important things.” my heart skipped a beat. Reminds me of reading Catcher in the Rye as a teenager and being moved how someone could have the same thoughts as me and put them down in words. In other words, this post is great, really resonated with me! Thank you!

  8. Sandra, Italy

    Amen to that… ❤

  9. leetah

    There’s no recipe for happiness, you’re either happy or not. Sometimes it’s a bit harder to reach the happy state and you’re just lost.
    I found myself this week saying sorry to my bf that I’m not happy and I’m sorry for that, I don’t know what’s wrong. Then I thought about it and I mean, screw that, I don’t need to apologize to anyone for feeling the way I feel. Things are hard now but I’m on my way to finding my happiness. As everyone else.
    Thanks for the post!

  10. Emily

    I just found this post in my inbox while working at Starbucks and I’m all… Yes!!! (smiling and happy dancing) All of this! Thank you.

    So helpful to hear these words. I’ve been sensing this and you expressed it perfectly.

  11. Danielle Folkerts

    I love this, and its so true. Thanks for just be the more practical, fun and inspiring blog!

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