The One Word That Can Steal Your Happiness

The One Word That Can Steal Your Happiness
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I first grasped this problem around something that seemed simple and pleasant - holiday cards. It was November and my calendar alerts started popping up “Time to take holiday card photo.” I thought I would feel joy at the idea of taking family photos and sharing with friends and family. However, all I could feel was dread. Dread of trying to get the perfect photo, choosing a printer, chasing down people who had moved, and hand addressing over a hundred envelopes. It had become a “should.”

The word “should” has become commonplace in our complex lives full of obligations to keep our families achieving and to keep up with the Joneses. When social media shows us seemingly perfect people and perfect mothers, we feel pressure to live up to that ideal.

For me, I felt that others were counting on me to send out that card. I had to keep up with my friends and their beautiful cards. I felt an obligation to my family and friends, who might notice if they did not get my holiday photo. Even though I hadn’t wanted to send out a card for a few years, I still felt that I “should.”

So that year, I felt such a huge negative contraction in my body that I started questioning the whole idea of “should.” I realized I felt I should do this card, but I started wondering why.

I thought about all of the reasons I thought I had to do it and started examining them.

In hindsight, the obligation to send out a holiday card seems inconsequential. But in my brain, it had become a big deal. Author Byron Katie wrote, “It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering.” I was certainly attached to my thoughts around holiday cards.

I realized that my story was that I had to send out holiday cards because if I didn’t, then I was a bad mom and I was lazy. This story was so deeply ingrained in my brain that it took a lot of unease caused by the idea of doing this task to even make me question it.

When I started to question, I wondered if my story was really true.

Would not doing holiday cards truly make me a bad mom? My initial answer was yes, because of all of the years I had believed this thought. But the more I questioned, the more I recognized that I was a great mom in other ways.

I wondered what would happen if I just stopped doing the holiday cards. I took it to its extreme and realized that no one would die. Sure, some people might miss them. But is it really worth doing something that makes me unhappy and that I’m only doing out of a sense of obligation?

So I took a giant leap and decided not to do holiday cards that year. And you know what? The world still turned. I didn’t get any complaints or angry phone calls. I could spend that crazy amount of time I normally spend doing cards on something that brought me a lot more joy.

I gained a lot more happiness because I questioned a “should.”

I became aware of my thoughts and the pain they were causing and turned that into joy.

What in your life do you feel you “should” do but brings up dread? What tasks make you feel constricted and unhappy? Start questioning if you really have to do them.

Start realizing you might be able to instead spend that time on something else that makes you happy. Realize that you are worthy of joy and that a happy person is always more valuable to have around than someone full of stress.

Bethany is a life coach with a weekly inspirational blog at She helps women who have lost themselves in the demands of everyday life. They are stuck and don't know how to move forward. She helps them take bold steps toward new dreams so they can be happy.

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