Guest post: Jason S. Frishman, PsyD
Happiness is not a thing
We think of happiness as a noun, a thing to achieve.
One day, we will get it and all will be good.
One day, we will hold happiness and everything will make sense; everything will be worth it.
But what if we’ve got it all wrong?
Like the adolescent who states they’ll wake up on time for work when they become an “adult.”
As if everything changes dramatically the moment they become eighteen.
Like most people who say that they’ll start something….some day.
As if everything radically changes the moment that we finally grasp some form of Happiness.
What if Happiness is NEVER a noun?
What if Happiness is ALWAYS a verb?
What if Happiness is discovered only as part of a larger process?
As men, we’ve been sold and told a specific story for generations. It’s a story of power, control and domination. Achievement. Productivity. Getting shit done. This is the way. This is the way that men measure their own worth, their happiness. Only after conquering the enemy or speaking the loudest or making six or seven figures or becoming a sex god can we hold elusive Happiness.
Yet, how is this working for us?
Men are lonely. We are isolated. Suicide rates are skyrocketing. Depression, anxiety, and anger run wild through today’s masculine mindset. We are isolated, even when the world is (potentially) connected in ways never before experienced in human history. We are alone, even when we live with a partner and have “buddies” to hang out with and distract ourselves from life’s everyday trials. We don’t often have the awareness, the skills or even the words to share what is really going on for us.
Dominant stories and models of masculinity have failed us all. Many men are lost, following a path that no longer serves anyone other than those already in power.
If I am not living an epic life, if I am not achieving legendary status, then who am I?
How can I possibly be happy?
We all want to be heroes
Let’s think about that, ok? What is a Hero? We’ve seen them in blockbuster movies and in epic novels. The hero is power full. The hero is dominant and strong and takes no shits from anyone. The hero has Very Important Things to do. The hero knows the distinct difference between good and evil; there is no in between! The hero becomes separate from this world, separate from those he purports to love, separate from the values that he states he holds most dear - all for the sake of his glorious purpose. The hero has a mission, and to hell with most everyone who gets in the way. After the quest, the hero can settle down and live happily ever after.
There are so many issues with this story. Most of us aren’t out there battling dragons or rescuing the realm. Many of us are simply moving through our days, making a living, hoping to connect more meaningfully with our partners and friends. We’re trying our best to raise little humans. Many of us are working for the weekend, staying up too late, doing too little, and avoiding those inner voices that strongly suggest that there can be another way.
While there may be treasure at the end of some epic Adventures, many men are stuck in the idea that big actions are the only avenue to discover happiness, contentment, and meaning. Many men not only wouldn’t know or see the path of daily joy and happiness, we actively denigrate it. We see daily activity as drudgery, chores as necessary evils, and maintaining the home and relationships as tasks relegated to others (usually women). It’s as if we’ve been taught and maintain the myth that the domain of men’s work is the big, important stuff. And everything else exists solely as supporting characters in our quests for power, control and domination.
Indeed, there is another way.
There are adventures for us, for every man.
There is potential for magic and wonder every day.
There is a new quest, a new story emerging for men that invites happiness, meaning and contentment.
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Where to start? What to do? Where’s our map for this elusive quest?!
In the JourneyMen Foundations program, we share a detailed map for traveling your Fatherhood Journey. If you are interested in learning more about our work, please consider taking a tour of our framework!
In our quest for everyday happiness, let’s begin by letting go of previous notions. Too often, Happiness has meant something that is currently unattainable. By definition, Happiness has come to represent something in the future. We have to work for happiness, right? Yet, our daily lives are too inundated, too harried and hectic to yield Happiness, right? WRONG.
Discovering happiness is a powerful and ongoing journey. Happiness comes and goes; it slips away when we’re not looking and can pop up during the most challenging of moments. So, then, our true Herculean task is to create moments of intention, action, and reflection that continually invite happiness into our everyday lives. Like the blacksmith toiling at his forge and consistently improving his craft, creating everyday happiness is a discipline, an art. The root of discipline is disciple. Can you become a student of yourself, your life and your own Happiness?
Here are three steps to get you started on this journey:
#1 Know yourself
What do you believe in and what do you truly care about? What are some of your core values? What are your likes and dislikes? What do you want from yourself, from others? In today’s culture, so many men rarely, if ever, make the time to stop and answer these questions about themselves. We are offered so many ways to avoid the discomfort of self-exploration. It’s uncomfortable, especially when confronting the answers to these questions may mean that one is not actually acting in accordance with our own answers. Knowing ourselves may mean that we might have to confront our behaviors, our past, or our participation in a system that directly impacts our lives and those that we love the most.
Uncovering our values is a challenge. Values can be vague, overly general and overwhelming to explicitly state, even to ourselves. To get started, pick one thing that you regularly choose to do, either at home or work. What does your commitment to that action say about you? What does it say about what you care about, value? You can start with 3 or 4 values; more will become evident as you move along in this quest. As you begin to know yourself, you have the opportunity to take different actions, to make different choices. You have the possibility to act everyday in little, consistent ways to express your self-stated values. Living in accordance with what is truly important to you is a solid step towards happiness!
#2 Connect in authentic ways with others
Men are increasingly disconnected with colleagues, friends, partners, extended family, and their own children! Men have buddies. They’ve got “people.” Yet, to whom do they turn when shit hits the fan? Sometimes, a guy’s wife or partner is the only person who gets to see (a small portion) of his inner angst and experiences. Other times, the answer is nobody. Many men do not even have the vocabulary to meaningfully share their thoughts and feelings with others. Making friends for men has become a meme, jokes about “bromances” highlight the challenges that men have in developing real, true friendships. Connecting in this way is seen as weak or feminine (illustrating pervasive cultural homophobia and misogyny.) Individualism and bootstrapping are cultural priorities that can impact even the most “woke” men.
Connecting with others in real, authentic ways is freeing. These connections are what men, if not everyone, need more than ever.
Men gathering together to intentionally share real lived stories is radical and powerful and has the potential to create significant shifts in our culture. We can move away from power, control, and domination towards connection and partnerships.
We can and need to start small, however. Call up an old friend. Reconnect with someone from childhood. Let someone in on the discoveries you are making about yourself and what is really important to you. Share thoughts, feelings, celebrations, and worries about yourself, your relationships, or your kids. Share your thoughts, feelings, celebrations, and worries WITH your partners and your kids! Building strong connections in your everyday life is yet another solid step towards happiness.
#3 Find a way to serve
And now, we return to the things that we care about, that we value. Values can often remain as lofty, distant aspirations. So many things get in the way of living our values. Sure, we’d love to help others, serve others. Resources, time, bandwidth, and “other obligations” serve as obstacles to action. Outside of what needs to get done, how are we living our values, everyday? Actually, we can and must begin to express our values by doing what NEEDS to be done. Our intention is essential. Our intention can direct our experience. It can feed our choices.
Here is an essential practice for this quest. Think small. Think about everyday actions. Think about how you can express yourself and the values you are discovering.
Our daily life is ripe with opportunities to serve others. House work, home work, chores, and errands are all moments that you can enter with an intention to serve.
What value are you demonstrating by cleaning the toilets, washing the dishes or folding the laundry? What priorities are you modeling for yourself, your partner, and your kids? This becomes particularly poignant when you engage in these activities with an outward expression of value, when you complete these tasks with the mindset that this mundane task can (and will) become meaningful. Meaningful actions in service to others and your own values are powerful and a third step towards Happiness.
These steps are essential preparation for Foundational Adventures. Foundational Adventures present different, lived stories for men. They are everyday journeys we take to express our core values through ordinary, mundane actions. These adventures elevate meaning, create sustainable connections, and prepare us all for engaging in the world with intention and direction. Foundational Adventures lead us towards daily treasures of meaning, contentment, and Happiness.
Inevitably in all journeys, adventures, and quests there are risks, challenges, and obstacles. Growth is hard. Happiness, contentment, and meaning are most often uncovered as part of the challenge, as part of moving through difficulty. And, fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. There are a growing number of supportive groups and programs for men who want to create their own paths to Happiness. Reach out, get connected. And enjoy the journey!
The JourneyMen Foundations program offers a deep dive into forging your own Foundational Adventures and writing your own narrative as a man and father. Our primary goal is to support men in creating powerful connections with themselves, their partners, their kids and their communities. The program is run by psychologist and coach Jason S. Frishman, PsyD and is an outgrowth of his work with boys, men and families over the last 25 years. New cohorts are being offered regularly, please reach out to learn more!
Jason S. Frishman, PsyD
Jason has been working for 25 years to support individuals, groups, families, organizations and businesses. Jason is excited to bring over two decades of work in offices, institutions, kitchens, farmers’ markets, woodlots and boardrooms to wild new environments. Whether as a psychotherapist, the creator and founder of JourneyMen, public speaker, thought leader or narrative consultant, Jason believes that our lives are adventurous, and we can and should be an active, engaged author of our own adventure stories!
Your Work is Our Work, Your Journey is Our Journey.
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