When Happiness Feels Like a Struggle, No Matter What You Do


“There is no reason to reach high for the stars. They are already within you. Just reach deep into yourself.” ~Unknown

I left a big job at a hedge fund in New York City nearly eight years ago. I was far from certain the job was to blame for my unhappiness at that time, but it was the biggest, boldest action I could take to make me feel like I was doing something to help my cause.

I have spent the last eight years searching for happiness, not sure at all what it would feel like or where I would find it.

So I mostly wandered. I moved from New York City to San Francisco to Seattle to Park City. I started a business, closed the business, took a job, quit the job. I ended an engagement, moved in with a boyfriend, and then moved out. I searched for happiness on beaches, in jungles, and in the forest.

Open to all the help I could get during this rudderless time, I also compulsively collected Top 10 lists that offered surefire ways to achieve greater happiness. (The proliferation of these Top 10 lists has given me comfort that I am not alone in my search!)

I can’t count the number of times I have put a small notepad on my nightstand to record three things I am grateful for before bedtime, or I have started exercising more (and more, and more).

I would eat one list up and then move on to the next. And that’s the problem. My experience has been that quality-of-life improvements can be made with these lists as guides, but the improvement is typically fleeting—as was with each of my moves, new jobs, and new boyfriends.

What to do? After years of trial and error (and some great teachers along the way), I have come to understand that it’s that question that gets us stuck to begin with.

Most Top 10 lists for finding greater happiness are prescriptions for what to do, actions to take, and this is their limitation. It was also the greatest limitation to my own approach—my focus was on taking big, bold action.

What I have learned about finding happiness is that first we have to stop doing. We have to start by focusing on who we are at our core, on our being; only then can we begin to figure out what we should be doing to fully realize this beautiful person, to let the stars that are already in us shine brightly.

So, who am I at my core? Who are you? We are each made up of a unique collection of values, the combination of which make up our being.

The top way to live a happy life: identify your values (who you are) and act (do) accordingly.

How well do you know your personal value system?

Often when we talk about values, words like honesty, integrity, kindness, and thoughtfulness come to mind.

Most of us were taught to honor these values early in life (it’s as if we were all in the same kindergarten class), and then most teachers, parents included, stopped talking about the v-word.

In the West, ambitions and goals typically receive much more emphasis than values as young people grow and gain responsibilities.

But your value system is like your fingerprint, full of life and wholly unique to you. (That’s what makes it so hard for any list of Top 10 lists to speak to us all.)

My value system, for example, is made up of roughly twenty principles that combine to make me the one-of-a-kind person I am.

My values include courage, beauty, curiosity, creativity, adventure, presence, and generosity, to name a few. When I’m in a funk and can’t figure out why, it is likely because I am not feeding one (or more) of these values.

For example, when I’m out of touch with beauty because I’m spending so much time in front of my computer, my to-dos might include taking a walk in nature. When I feel life’s become too routine and scheduled, I might make an adventure date with myself and go rock climbing.

Inevitably, when something’s not quite right, I can identify a value that needs more love—pronto!—and create an action item from that deep source of wisdom.

Now it’s your turn. What values make you uniquely you? If you have not spent much time getting to know yourself in this way yet, here are a few suggestions:

  • Peruse a lengthy list of values and circle those that hit home
  • Think of your role models and consider what it is about them you admire most
  • Reflect on the values you want to pass on to your children

Once you have your list of values, start by identifying a few that you’ve fallen out of touch with, values that for one reason or another aren’t getting visibility in your daily life. With those values as your guide, create a list of to-dos that will allow you to connect with each value more fully.

Add on from there. (Why wait until a value is not getting visibility?)

The more you can connect your actions to your values, the more happiness awaits you. Ultimately, you will be connecting with the beautiful being that is you and that connection is what happiness is all about.

Photo here

About Carrie Simon

Carrie Simon is a self-seeker, adventurer, nature-lover, road-tripper, coach, writer, and host of frequent solo dance parties. I live for the opportunity to inspire and support others who strive for greater freedom and personal happiness. My own journey started almost 8 years ago when I gave up a big job to discover my big self. Join me:

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  • Michael Scott Dembesky

    that was beautiful, thank you. Also congrats on your journey & not giving up despite the possible ups/downs & confusion. This was inspiring for me today & I hope I put your tips into practice. My journey through life so far has been similar…. & it gets exhausting at times… too much doing (on the outside for me) & not enough on the inside. Thanks again.

  • Mrina

    Really helped a lot, thank you! I will start with MY values and go from there. Makes more sense than random happiness lists that don’t apply to me.

  • Ali

    Love this exercise!

  • Juliette

    “Ultimately, you will be connecting with the beautiful being that is you and that connection is what happiness is all about” = truly, the best definition of hapiness I have ever read. i experienced it, but never put words on it. Does resonate. Thank you.

  • Michelle

    Beautiful ideas. I have been searching too and found that the more I know who I am, the happier I feel. I think this is the first step…know who you are. Then you can “feed” yourself.

  • lv2terp

    GREAT post!!! Thank you for sharing your insight, that is a wonderful way to discover oneself, and I like the idea of matching the to-do list with values to show love and attention to them! 🙂 Awesome! 🙂

  • I can identify so much with this post… at some stage, I feel like I have it all figured out, I think I feel like life is a routine… Though I dare not take a much bigger step like quitting my job to travel, I take small steps. Whenever life feels like a routine, I go to work using a different way. Or I take a walk (alone) and just enjoy the view and journey!

  • So awesome and so true Carrie! It’s so interesting about what you said, that “not giving enough love to your personal values” actually leads to unhappiness. Even crazier – i recently recently read some research that found that acting against our values actually lowers our self-esteem (which no-doubt, also makes us feel unhappy!). Tuning into which of our values might not be being expressed enough – and then express that somehow is a huge step to creating greater happiness, but I also think that we need to be super careful about not going AGAINST our own values at the same time.
    While we might think that going against our own values here and there when no one is looking isn’t that bad (like lying or privately cheating on ourself or others), in truth it’s actully hurting our happiness more than we know because it lowers our self esteem too!
    Cheers Carrie! Great post!!

  • Meesha

    Wow, I really love this. I think it makes so much more sense than thinking that the path to happiness is the same for everyone. After all, we are different human beings. As someone who suffers from depression (for a decade) this is great and I’m going to try it! Thanks for the insight(:

  • Souris

    What, you don’t have an ill-gotten fortune to let you just take off for 8 years “searching for happiness” either? Gosh, I thought it was just me.

  • notsoperky

    I’m so very glad that the author discovered the peace of mind actually having values and following them can bring. I’m so very proud of her. So grown up!

    Did you spend any of those 8 years chasing happiness as the primary caretaker for aging parents because their savings were wiped out by New York hedge fund managers, by any chance?

  • Tebogo

    Wow! Never have i read such a profound piece of information. I also struggle with finding happiness and have always read up on these generic lists to finding happiness and none have resonated like this post.

    Thank you so much, i will also try it and i believe this is a different way of finding happiness and itll work