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How To Figure Out What Makes You Happy

Oh hey there,

I’m Sarah Von Bargen.

Want to look at your calendar and your bank statement and think “Yup, I made awesome choices”? I’ll show you how to spend your time, money, and energy on purpose.

How To Rediscover What Makes You Happy When Life Feels Like A Hamster Wheel Of Work, Errands, And Netflix

“I literally don’t know what makes me happy anymore. I feel like all I do is work, run stupid little errands, and then watch Netflix while I mess around on my phone.” 

When I polled my Instagram followers about where they get stuck on happiness, I was extremely hoping their happiness-related issues would be “easy to solve.”

Instead, with heartbreaking frequency, I got some variation of the above.

We’re exhausted. We’ve lost touch with who we are. We feel forced to spend most of our time, money, and energy on the bull-shittery of Modern Adult Life™ and by the time we have some free time, we’re too tired to do much with it.

And while I’m not sure I have a one-size-fits-all, five-minute solution, I do have a few thoughts about rediscovering happiness.

It is incredibly normal to lose sight of what makes us happy

If you’re over the age of 28, you’ve probably spent the last 10+ years prioritizing at least one of the following: 

  • Academic programs
  • Career advancement
  • Building a family
  • Finding a partner
  • Activism or community involvement
  • Meeting the expectations of your family of origin, society at large, etc. etc.

And while these might contribute to an overarching sense of achievement and a life that’s fulfilling in a “when I’m on my deathbed I’ll be glad I did it” sense … they don’t necessarily add to day-to-day happiness.

Like, yes. I’m proud of myself for writing that academic paper but it doesn’t really give me the same immediate dopamine hit as eating a cheese board next to a body of water, ya know? 

Once we’ve got a second to breathe and take stock of our lives, it can be hard to even remember who we were and what made us happy BEFORE we started worrying about getting the promotion, earning the degree, buying a house, and maxing out our Roth IRAs.

All of this to say: This is normal and you’re not alone.

We’ve all internalized stories about what “someone like me” is allowed to like

A story from my own life:  In high school, I was part of the “artsy weird kid” clique. There were Dickies, there was an undercut, there was A LOT of listening to So Much For The Afterglow.

AND I very much wanted to be on my high school’s dance team. I knew that high kicking in sequins to up-tempo music would make me very happy. But I believed that “someone like me” wasn’t allowed to pursue “something like that.”

I thought my gothy friends would scoff and the dance girls would exclude me and haze me. So I spent grades 7 – 11 denying myself that joy.

In grade 12, I sucked it up, tried out, made both the performance and competition squads and even danced in a Citrus Bowl halftime show! My friends and the dancers were a little confused, but nobody was mean and everybody stopped caring in, like, two days.

The truly wild thing is that most of us have a story like this BUT WE DON’T EVEN REALIZE IT.

Years ago, we subconsciously absorbed the idea that someone of our gender, class, race, culture shouldn’t be made happy by _____ so we closed that chapter of the book, never to revisit it.

We haven’t yet encountered the things that would make us happy

Sometimes, we simply haven’t been exposed to things that would light us because of geography, availability, or exposure.

How would you know you’d love snowshoeing if you grew up in south Florida?

How would you know you’d love riding horses across the open prairie if you grew up in Brooklyn?

How would you know you’d love Vietnamese food if you grew up in a town of 1,770 people in rural Minnesota? (talking about my 18-year-old self, here.) 

How you can figure out what makes you happy, even if you lost touch with it for a while there

Notice anytime you hear the “that’s not for someone like me” voice in your head

And as head’s up, this is really hard! If someone told you at age 7 that liking Nascar wasn’t for someone like you, you’ve probably had 20+ years of internalizing that belief.

How do you get past these beliefs? It starts by noticing them. This might look like LITERALLY MAKING A LIST of the:

  • activities
  • hobbies
  • interests
  • topics
  • foods 

that your family of origin, your community, people in your “cultural bubble” don’t do or don’t like.  Then do your best to objectively reconsider them. 

Follow your curiosity without analyzing or judging it

If you keep finding yourself drawn to images of women hiking and camping on their own, put that in your proverbial back pocket.

If your ears perk up whenever your sister talks about her vegetable garden and all the new recipes she’s trying with her zucchini, take note of that.

If you’re intrigued by the magazine ad for Mississippi river paddleboat cruises, dogear for future reference.

But most importantly don’t get “too in your head” about these things. A lot of us follow the route of Ohhhh, hiking intrigues me > I don’t have hiking boots > do I need a state park pass > aren’t the trails really busy on the weekends > who would I even hike with > I already give up.

That’s not what we’re doing here.

Start by just allowing yourself to be intrigued. 

Allow yourself to try these curiosity-piquing things in an imperfect manner

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it 7,000 more times: You’re allowed to take imperfect action in the direction of what you want. (P.S. All action is imperfect action) Share on X
Curious about growing your own vegetables because you suspect it’ll make you really happy? Guess what? Your first veggie garden won’t be 100% A+++.

Think starting a podcast would make you happy? It might! Learning audio engineering software also has a learning curve.

Wonder if hosting themed dinner + movie nights would fill you up? They probably will! And also prepping a big meal and hosting a bunch of people will probably have some stressful moments.

Allow yourself to experiment with your happy-making things.

Release the expectation that these efforts will be 100% easy and 100% fun exclusively and immediately. Because they probably won’t be but that doesn’t mean you should stop or that you’re doing it wrong.

And if you want help figuring out what makes you happy, download this free workbook! One reader said it saved her “2-3 therapy sessions”!!


Photo by Holly Chisholm on Unsplash

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