Are You Happy?

But like, really, actually, truly?


Last August, just as New York crested the halfway-hump of summer, Leandra wrote about happiness. Was it the feeling of visiting her parents’ home, a pretty sunset, meditation? Or was it just a mindset? As we embark on the final leg of Summer 2017, it’s a question worth revisiting.

Are you happy?

I ask myself this question a lot. My answer, for the most part, is yes, but after I read a profile on Marie Kondo in the New York Times Magazine last week, I got to thinking more acutely about happiness. If you’re unfamiliar with Marie Kondo, she is a Japanese tidying expert who has become phenomenally famous in the last three years because of her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The book, as you would expect, is about tidying up. But this is only on the surface. When you get into it, what you find is that it’s really a meditation on how to get happy. I knew this when I read it, but what I didn’t quite realize until the Times piece was that Kondo didn’t get famous because she can teach you how to organize your pantry. She’s a global sensation because of what she promises beneath that: a happier life, a happier you.

Kondo’s success, that of other books like hers and box office hit singles like Pharrell’s “Happy” indicate that culturally, no matter how many of us answer yes when asked if we’re happy, chances are, we’re not. I’m all for consistent and radical self-improvement, but not at the cost of what makes us happy. And what makes us happy is the thing of it. I don’t think we actually know what happiness is — how to make it and then keep it.

This might be a problem indigenous to Metropolitan cities, where it is stressful to merely exist. I can’t speak to an experience that is not my own with full conviction but know that if you work many hours a week, feel looming terror overcome you when the sun sets on a Sunday and wake up with your heart beating at 98 beats per minute on a given weekday morning — no matter how much you love your job, no matter how fulfilling you say it is, no matter how frequently you meditate, love your partner and talk to your mom — you’re not happy.

The reason I know this is because it is not a rhetorical narrative; it’s one plucked from my own experience. For the longest time, I thought I’d figured it out: that there’s no such destination as happiness, its a “journey” replete with many speed bumps. But I don’t think that’s right anymore, either.

I was leaving my parents’ home in Southampton on Sunday evening like I do at the end of every summer weekend. That morning I had woken up and felt jealous of the former me, who 48 hours prior woke up in Southampton and still had the whole weekend ahead of her. By 5 p.m., when we were leaving, I had just completed the Times’ Kondo story and finished washing out my empty wine glass. My heart felt especially heavy when I went to hug my parents and I broke down. I don’t know why or what set it off. I looked forward to the week that was getting ready to confront me and, before that, I so looked forward to dinner at dusk, in the East Village, when you start to see stars fighting to shine through what’s left of the daylight, and you’re not that hungry, but so eager to be outdoors with someone you like.

No time like high summer will remind you with pestering persistence that if you don’t soak in the moment, you’re going to open your eyes and feel your limbs covered in snow. And that observation (the fear of snow), coupled with my reality (the sun setting on my back, the heat kissing my face, the sweat running through my elbows as I hugged my parents), indicated to me that I’m never gonna get happy until I start living. Because that’s not what I’m doing, you know? Yeah, I’m going through the motions. I’m working really hard. I’m laughing when stuff is funny, but mostly, I’m looking forward to getting this done and that started, to getting there and leaving here. Those details above — of the fantastic weekend, of the dinner at dusk — they’re recollections. I never feel them when I’m in them because I’m never actually here. But what’s wrong with here? I’m enjoying doing “this.” “That” can wait.

My life, it seems, occurs in two phases: past and future. I haven’t figured out how to live in the present even through meditation, and frequent exercise, and eating the right stuff and seeking advice because I never knew I wasn’t here in the first place. I blamed “the speed bumps” I had identified on my misinformed “journey” called Happiness and living in New York, and a conflated American dream that placed severe emphasis on capitalism and taking advantage of opportunity and attempting to institutionalize those windows of opportunity and our tendency as a population of over-doers to go from 0 to 100 in under a minute. Moderation, you say? What the hell is that? But now I know that it — the royal It — has nothing to do with any of that. It’s all in me and about me and shit, that is so relieving.

I sent a text message to my younger brother, an eternal (sometimes idealistic) optimist and asked him what he believes is the key to happiness. He replied immediately, “It’s simple, just be it.”

So as I feel my finger tips hit the keys that create these words and I stop myself from wondering how putting this out into the world will be received and instead acknowledge the window to my left, overlooking a vast ocean from over 5,000 feet above ground and I feel my brow furrowing further and further and I breathe in through my nose and back out through my mouth, whispering these words as they appear on the page, I’m it. Happy.

Photo by Patrick Demarchelier/Conde Nast/Contour Style via Getty Images.


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  • Dani Heifetz

    I think a real part of happiness is coming to terms with the fact that you’re never going to reach that peak feeling of happiness– where you feel like everything in your life is going to perfectly fall into place– and being absolutely, 100% ok with that. Like you said, it’s so important to try to just be “it” and to try and live in the present, and I think you can only do that if you’re not presently seeking out something greater.

    • rolaroid

      TOTALLY. i was a very sad child, a depressed teen and an even more depressed young adult. And the whole time I thought, “When I’m older I’ll be happy” — and the image of happy I had was euphoric and unrealistic. Having lived a very full life (and I’m only 30), I’ve had multiple reality checks and ultimately, knowing that the fantasy is just a fantasy has helped me in being content and joyful in my day-to-day, and knowing that above all, remaining happy is WORK. It takes work to know when to eject toxic folks from your life, just like it takes work to keep the gems close. It takes work to figure out if what you’re doing professionally is fulfilling, and to know how and when to adjust that. It takes work to be adaptable. You need to listen to yourself — what kind of person you are — and live your life accordingly. I know it sounds easier said than done, but it’s small lessons that add up that bring you to being you, and being you is happiness. Be you, yourself, be happy.

      Fuck, I sound like a hippie!! 😉

  • Aydan

    This seems like an accurate time to share this article that my dear friend shared with me after we spent Saturday night talking about what it means to live the fulfilled life (we started by talking about dating and literally ended with what is the meaning of life — girl friends, they make you think). I think the comment below is so right. It’s all about understanding that balance can be more satisfying in the long run then overblown joy because like most things its fleeting. (I really need to listen to myself on this one because it has a been a struggle of a summer for sure)

  • Senka

    I can identify with this so strongly. You put the feeling into words so well. I go through the motions and moments, that are and should be enjoyable, but fail to actually be happy when they are happening, because I dread what comes next, what comes after that. Part of me understands it comes as the sideffect of my anxiety and neuroticness. I can’t simply enjoy. I have somewhere along the way lost the ability to fully participate, and started to have fear and anxiety as a back up plan for what comes after, and what will, undoubtedly be bad. I have also spent this weekend with my parents. Hugged them on their way home on Sunday, and stayed with my self thinking I haven’t properly enjoyed their visit. Which was true. I wasn’t just being, eating food, soaking up the sun, laughing, walking. I was, phyisically doing all that, but my mind was at my work desk on Monday morning. I really needed to read this. Because my real vacation starts in a month. I have booked the flights, the hotels, and know I should actually enjoy it. Now I have a month to work on myself being present while I’m there.

  • Anne Dyer

    In my experience, life takes on a weird, is any of this important feel once we decide we want to become mothers and start endlessly trying to do just that. Because the universe doesn’t always mirror our own timelines, we have a tendency to overthink everything while we wait. The meaning of being “happy” shifted the day I became pregnant. And though child rearing is hard, it is a luxury to “complain” about its challenges. Really it’s the ultimate ray of sunshine, happy dance, jazz hands part of life.

    • Anne Dyer

      And PS – when you do become pregnant your readers fully expect a jazz hands, happy dance.

  • aisyah

    We think too much about how to gain that happiness that we have forgotten what happiness really means. You don’t necessarily need to gain something in order to achieve it. Sometimes, it could be as simple as you appreciating the little things in life.

  • Man, so deep !
    This is what getting back from holiday can do to you.
    I really appreciated this short article, it felt so generous of you to share. And I feel better about myself now, for real ! since I feel the same at the moment, and lost…

    keep posting and podcasting !

  • Rachel D.

    I hope this doesn’t sound spam-y but my mom wrote a (v short) book called ‘The Joy Formula’ that realllllly speaks to this. The idea is that we don’t have to *do* anything to be happy (we don’t have to do any tricks, organize our lives, clean out our closets, etc). At our core we are totally whole and unbroken- it’s just when we listen to all the white noise & get caught up in our thinking that we lose touch with that inner being. But finding happiness doesn’t require any action- we can tap into it any time, because it is always there. 🙂

    • Sugar Bones

      Your mom sounds so rad!

      • Rachel D.

        She is the best!! 😀

  • Aimee Wang

    This is like me this Sunday, spent 2 hours thinking if I should go to the neighborhood bakery, dragging myself out of bed an hour later, biked there, took my time to pick the cookie I want, and then finished it when I was unlocking my bike. I was too excited to start eating it but also worrying about where to go next that I barely noticed it when I eat it…

  • Alessia

    SAME. But I don’t think it’s as easy as just “being” happy. I think you have to acknowledge that life has its ups and downs, and you can’t just expect to be always happy all the time. Happy moments DO happen, and I agree that we should all try and be more present during those moments, rather than focus on the past or future, but I feel like there’s no such thing as “making” or “keeping” that happiness… just try and enjoy it while it’s there. <3

  • Christel Michelle

    I feel like the obsession with being the happiest and best versions of ourselves also has deep roots in social media. I don’t want to jump on the anti-social media bandwagon (because I’m not anti-social media), but it’s so easy to feel inadequate or like you could be doing more/better after you sign onto Instagram and see tons of staged photos that are chock full of exuberant smiles and dream like lifestyles or vacations. There is no way that anyone is one hundred percent happy, one hundred percent of the time. Though now it feels like we ought to be, because that is the image we as a society have created for ourselves. It’s like, if you don’t get with the program that becomes an error on your part and then the vicious cycle of self criticism starts up again.

    • Pamela

      100% agree and you only question how “happy” you are when you see what others are doing. My new thing is using social media as normal by once the weeken rolls, I log off mostly and just try enjoy the moment and not roll my eyes when I see my friends and strangers perceiving to be having a better weekend/ time than me. So what? I live for me and honestly it definitely keeps me grounded. I do love social media but I can see how comparing oneself constantly can interfere with ones personal happiness and well being.

    • ihaveacooch

      the discrepancy between what people project on social media vs their actual feelings is insane sometimes. i find that the people who post the most about how “happy” they are with their lives on instagram/facebook/etc are the most unhappy in reality.

      • Senka

        From my personal experience, it’s true but also complex. I’ll write about what annoys me on Facebook, trying to make it humorous, witty, funny, but in the end saying what either bothers me or makes me unhappy. I am more honest, vulnerable. But when posting on Instagram I’ll pick prettiest of my not so pretty pictures. Being on the beach, buying flowers, vacations etc. I don’t know why. I guess seeing everyone looking perfect, being in perfect places, having everything, makes us want to at least show best aspects of our own flawed lives. And I am older than most MR readers, but it still affects me. It’s hard to look at Instagram without feeling like a total failure.

  • Kristie

    This strikes me today after reading insights from writer Jeff Goins’ yesterday about becoming a “writer”. He says You become a writer when you say you’re one, a step he found truly daunting. Maybe just as daunting to call ourselves happy. “Who am I to say I’m happy when I haven’t done X , accomplished Y?” etc. Until you call yourselves whatever you want and go for it.

    • Natasha

      oh my gosh. this just blew my mind!

      • Kristie


    • Jesus take the wheel, this is too right.

  • Sharon

    All this navel gazing will not lead to happiness.

    “Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.”
    –Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Grace b

    I have experienced loads of happy moments and you have too, Leandra. When I am doing something really awesome I make sure to close my eyes and smile and document it in my mind – going for a drive with my little brother, horseback riding in the sun, etc. Sometimes I write in a gratitude journal. And yes, I love yoga. I do these things – not even all the time-because I spend a lot of time being melancholy. Basically worshipping at the altar of navel gazing. Not moving forward. Worrying. It is actually preferable to having fun or doing something that makes me feel good. So reminder here to not get stuck in the crummy moments and to appreciate the good ones.

  • Svenja

    There is this strange thing about happiness — I have looked back a few times on different phases of my life and realized that I was happy then.. without knowing it at the time. Maybe you can’t feel truly happy while you are thinking about happiness, but you just have to enjoy the happy moments that come along and when you look at a certain time period much later you will see all the happy memories of the time together and you will smile because you know that you were happy then.

  • “Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product” – best quote on happiness to date. I read it on a pack of sugar in a restaurant back in 2007. I find that it still keeps the essence of happiness.

    For me happiness is a feeling or state that happens at the most unexpected places in time, you can appreciate it for a moment and then life goes on. It’s that feeling of being deeply satisfied with your life, while also acknowledging that are things that still needs to be figured out. I do think that requires us to live life the best we can and be present in the moment, instead of chasing something different/better/the next.

  • Rayna Tobin

    I struggle so often with always being in the future. I’m thinking about what I am excited about for next week, what vacation is coming up soon, what plans I have with friends over the weekend. It is something that I at least have an awareness of, but feel that I still have not stopped myself from drifting off into future land. While I know that having plans and goals are important, I definitely need to take more moments to appreciate my present and open my eyes to what’s around me at this moment.

  • Can happiness be a permanent state though? I’ve met some super positive people that seem to always be happy but to me they seem a bit strange and fake. Part of the beauty of being a human is that we get to experience so many emotions, and that makes us appreciate the better emotions (like happiness) more. Just like living through winter makes us appreciate summer more. If everything was amazing and perfect all the time, imagine how bored we’d get.
    Sorry if this sounds negative or like some existential nonsense, of course I strive to be happy but I think it has to come with stress, sadness, etc and that’s just part of life.

    • I like your reply Maria. Its honest and takes the pressure of trying to be happy too. You have to have those contrasts to the sunsets and good times, to make you ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the happiness too.

    • Pterodactyl111

      I don’t think being truly happy is always being positive. I think being truly happy and truly content requires feeling your real, authentic emotions (including anger, sadness, frustration, etc) and being at peace with them. You feel them and then you move on, leaving them in the past.

  • BK

    Don’t worry about all that “living in the present” BS. Happiness is a paradox. You aren’t really supposed to be aware of those moments when you’re truly happy at the time because the minute you stop and think about how happy you are or aren’t, you begin appraising yourself and your situation, at the expense of your happiness (or at least the purity of your happiness). I try not to second-guess myself about being too happy or unhappy these days because it’s just another way for me to pick on myself and ultimately end up unhappy.

  • Joanna Maziarz

    Keep being you, Leandra so refreshingly honest keep on writing and just being you!! Happiness is in the moment (we all have bad days, we laugh at later when were in those “and I thought that was bad”) Be you, the happy goofy Leandra (that I always look forward to reading news stories from you/ your staff leaving a deep hearty laugh to follow)

  • Tania

    So many folks touch on the paradoxical nature of happiness. Living life and not judging if its good or bad is truly one of the hardest things I think anyone can do. I try it every now and then and realize, wow! My life with all its indecision, laughs, tears, sorrows, accomplishments and setbacks is a miraculous work of art and quite frankly is much more complex and special than the idea that i have of “happy”.

    Im a depressed (past focused), happy (present focused), anxious (future focused) miraculous ball of a being!!

    I read and listen to a lot of Deepak Chopra and like minds. Our western society is built on “creating” and “bettering” the self to the point that we lose sight that we are simply alive. (Sometimes I think existing is simply beyond our comprehension on so many levels, but that’s another convo…) I think thats why “developed” countries have higher rates of depression than “developing” nations where people focus on survival which breeds a culture of gratitude towards what is still around – life, friends, food, clean water, access to technology, etc. Giving thanks for what is in the NOW is the ultimate present to our peace of mind and if fuels our happiness by helping us not remember or plan, but look around.

    I sometimes set a reminder on my phone to think of a few things that I am grateful for. I truly believe that everyones’ world is so unique and special, perfectly curated by the “is”/ever changing present called Happiness.

    • Basil

      I totally agree about appreciating the “now”. I’ve had a few really difficult years, and I just wished that time away, I just wanted to get through it and be done with it. You’d have thought I had learned my lesson because it felt like the latter part of my 20s was spent trying to get somewhere, so I was studying and working hard and not enjoying being in my 20s. Looking back there were lots of times when I was happy, but I didn’t do things that would have made me happy because I was too focused on working. Now, I have nearly a year (yay British maternity leave!) where I’m away from the corporate environment and I’m able to (as far as is possible while hanging out with an infant all the time) try and figure out what I do enjoy doing and to take time and just be (with said infant). And you know what – before time would pass quickly and I’d just feel regret and like I’d missed so much whereas so far things have gone super fast, but as I’m trying to absorb every moment and appreciate it, I don’t feel that regret.

    • grace b

      Something I try to do is when I’m enjoying something (i.e. in the car with my little bro listening to tunes) I close my eyes and I think, “I’m here, right now, enjoying this” and THAT has been super helpful and I highly recommend it. Guess that is my way of staying in the now. I will say that living with someone who is always stressing being the present is obnoxious as hell — it negates that there IS much more going on in our lives and in the world and those things certainly don’t need to be ignored to be happy.

    • Lauryn P.C

      ” Our western society is built on “creating” and “bettering” the self to the point that we lose sight that we are simply alive.” Truly accurate, Tania. A recent Times article, brief yet poignant, points out that most of us won’t have world changing existences, but small things such as betting our friends and community, actually has such vast meaning, although we will not get huge recognition for it. We often get caught that we need recognition, influenced by social media, for the things we do. When truly, living each day seems to be the secret to a happy (ier) life.

  • Natasha

    “Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I’ll meet you there.”

    I came across this quote by Rumi a few days ago. Thinking about that garden makes me so happy. I think a lot of the things that give us anxiety in life have to do with expectation, comparison (whether it’s with others or with your own ideas of yourself), things we feel we ‘should’ be or do. The idea of cultivating a place within yourself where all of that is forgotten is so liberating. Conclusion: I’m going to start gardening.

  • Andrea Strobl

    You really touched me, because I can relate so much. Its so easy to say, but so hard to do. To live in the now, to just be. Also, thinking about happiness so much is what makes it so hard to get , let’s just be. Thank you Leandra <3

  • Mariana

    My problem is that I’m always so busy thinking “how things can go wrong” in the future that I don’t make room to “just be” in the present. I time travel to the hypothetical-and-worst-case-scenario-future a lot lol.

  • Tina Crisas

    Geez. First world problems. Wake the eff up.

  • HannahMerle


  • As you once said, fake it til you make it ! I often think about it when I feel like shit. What separates my “happy past me” from my “gloomy present me” ? Just me, thinking about it.

  • Ines

    I feel like this feeds into the neoliberal adage that says we can will ourselves to be happy if we only wish hard enough. “It’s all in me and about me” shifts the responsibility for happiness yet again onto the individual, leaving out the possibility that happiness isn’t the property of one – and I acknowledge the nod to capitalism, self-exploitation, etc. – but, perhaps, can only come about when I am more than myself, as “public happiness” if you will.

  • Gillian Byck Overholser

    Hi! I just heard Eckhardt Tolle say something wonderful on this topic during a call with Deepak Chopra last week. He said, “You have to make friends with NOW. ” in other words, don’t just use the present moment as a way to make some future moment better … like say , making your bed because you’ll feel happy after that, when it’s made. Does that make sense? That’s a teensy example of a much bigger issue. Here’s a slightly bigger example … if you’re not eating dairy NOW because IN THE FUTURE it will make you happy, There is no future, only ean endless succession of NOWS .. you have to learn to be happy NOW as opposed to using your NOWS to prepare for some purely theoretical future happiness. Make friends with NOW! xo Gillian O.

  • Banipreet Kaur

    Hi Leandra,
    Thank you for sharing this. It’s a beautiful read to wake up to (halla from Sydnayyyyy!) and contemplate. I wonder – is it happiness we seek or contentment? Happiness lies on the emotional paradigm where sadness also chills out. Are we to keep going up and down the scale of emotions constantly, or be in zen in da middle? I mean erryday is different and is packed full of emotions and challenges, so to find solace in the struggle – than to seek happiness? Idaankno.

  • b.e.g.

    You are very wise for one so young.

  • Hannah Cole

    I blogged a little post of my own in response to and inspired by this –
    coudn’t have come at a better time xx

  • Erika Galan

    Love this piece, Leandra! xoxoxo

  • yes Leandra – yes. so easy to approach happiness as a destination. If I’m not careful I’m quick to tag a “success story” like yours Destination: Happiness. All I Ever Wanted.

    perception is reality. Regardless of our path point we’re all striving striving striving and not quiet enough during late afternoon sunlight. But we can try

  • Am I working towards what I want? Then I can deal with anything. And I’m happy.
    A long time ago, a really annoying guy I knew told me his trick: it’s a choice. You can choose how you’re going to respond to the events in your life. Not choosing is a choice. But making the active choice is the better one. The stuff is still going to happen to you (eg: gravity).
    He was still annoying, but he was right. Choose wisely.

  • Town

    Beyond the fact that I’m getting tired of people obsessing over being perfectly happy all the time (and so many of your posts and podcasts are about that: am I happy?? Am I my best self?? Give yourself a break!), the interesting question is can we realistically be content living in a massive city such as NYC, or London or Paris. After all, not to sound like a hippie but those environments are nothing natural for us humans. We designed our own misery for profit, and then we wonder why we feel like shit. We completely disconnected from the absolute basic needs we have: nature, time, space, silence. We try so hard to find desperate ways to cope with city life (meditation! Sports! Yoga! Veganism! Rooftop gardening!), and then we keep wondering why this isn’t enough.
    I just think having a successful career like yours has a price, that’s all. If you’re sick of the anxiety, then quit and become a writer and move to the countryside really. But I doubt you’re fit for that either because then it would be TOO quiet, wouldn’t it?
    I’m really wondering all those questions myself as I live in a big city for my work (that is also a passion and a dream come true) and yet feel Like I’m not suit for city life.
    I met a woman who works in fashion and lives just outside of London, recently. She commutes every day and is much happier this way. Could this be a solution?…

    But maybe I’m totally beside the point and your problem is not the city and in that case my comment is useless and I’m sorry!

    • … moved to a village last year and think the answer is Yes/No :-). While it is always a pleasure to be able to breathe fresh air, have the Great Outdoor just across the street and as much peace as one can stand, these things are just nice contributions to one’s wellbeing and don’t actively make you happy. Especially if any of the following is taken into account: social control, lack of like-minded people and facilities suitable for You Doing You etc. I’ll spare you the details 🙂
      On the other hand, I have spent such a big part of my life doing Existential Fighting I am now forced by my suitably adapted personality to feel happy whenever I don’t feel threatened. While I’d love for my private (i.e. non-job) life to be much more diverse and exciting, I am not exactly unhappy about it, because my unhapiness is reserved and spent for “serious things”. That and the fact that I get many happy moments from the simple fact of being married to a Great Guy – and in this context, the place of living mostly isn’t important.

    • I was born and mostly raised in London but went back to the West Country for uni (where I was also raised for abit) which in the UK, has the rep of being where farmers are from…and for the whole three years of my course, I felt so low and wanted to go back to London. I prefer the city with the possibility to grapple with nature, especially abroad. I think it’s due to preference.

  • A-r-i

    When it comes to whether or not you can just “choose” to be happier, I used to think this was rubbish, until I realised that… maybe it is as simple as making that decision, but it’s also hard work. And you don’t necessarily just have to choose to be happier once, you probably have to keep doing it.
    I think the tricky thing about just choosing to be happy and being happier is that you end up asking yourself “if it’s so easy then why aren’t I happy right now?” or worse, feel blamed, and your next thought is “if it’s so easy, and I can’t do it, I must be broken somehow”.
    My brother has anxiety and I was talking to my mum about meditation. She said meditating was unlikely to help because he was already thinking too much, and I said, no, anxiety has little to do with actually thinking, it’s when thoughts are rushing through your head and you experience the weight of them. If you take time to actually experience them, it’s a lot less stressful.
    So, I don’t know, I’m not an expert but I care enough about this topic that I made a disqus just to comment on it! But that’s my take, that there’s the simple action of saying “yes” to happiness but a great depth of work to do underneath that “yes” (like (what a cliché!) an iceberg).

  • Jen

    I think a lot of feeling happy has to do with allowing ourselves to be joyful and vulnerable to that joy. I’ve been reading Daring Greatly and it talks about this a bit. (I highly recommend it). Also knowing that we are enough, which has been my personal mantra lately. I used to think, if I could do this or if I had this, I would be happier, but that was just me focusing on a different time other than the present. I really think happiness is something we choose and the more gratitude we express for the things we have, the more joy and happiness and we can remind ourselves to actively feel.

  • Jess

    I agree that being (or rather, feeling) happy includes choosing to be mindful. I can’t help but disagree that this isn’t all of it — and I think ultimately, we as a society tend to (perhaps need to) believe we have more control over things than we actually do.

    Consider also that maybe certain personality types are more predisposed to easily experiencing happy feelings than others. I’m reminded of the “tortured intellectual” trope (think Ivan from Brothers Karamazov, maybe?), which may very well be a caricature, but probably is not ultimately very far off. But basically, if someone’s naturally more introspective (artsy/creative types? those with anxiety, depression?), this can affect her inclination to be mindful. I can’t help but side-eye anyone who suggests it is as easy to suddenly “decide” to be happy as it is to decide which channel to watch. It certainly varies. I guess what this boils down to is the idea also of happiness as a feeling versus happiness as a state; I can see the former being more palpable.

  • Emma S

    What does it smell like? That is the question I try to ask myself when I realize I am not in the present moment. It forces me to pause, bring in some air, and notice the scent. It’s a horrible game to play if you live in S.F. or N.Y. in terms of scents, but it always makes me laugh.

  • Alexandra Sara

    I read this article yesterday, reflected on it all evening and thought about it again this morning! I think it’s really important to make a distinction between happiness and well being. We should all strive for a permanent state of well being – meaningful connections with other human beings, engaging and fulfilling ways of filling our days, strong physical health and a rich, stable mental state that allows us to flourish and grow. All of this in the light and shade of life’s complexities!

    ‘Happiness’ is a by-product of well-being and our focus should always be on attaining well-being first or we risk putting the proverbial cart before the horse! Well-being is within us and it takes a shift in thinking to realise you need to work from the inside out to lay the foundations for ‘happiness’.

    Even asking yourself if you’re happy is counter-productive as it shouldn’t be the goal but the reflection – ‘Am I happy?’ What, now? No, now, I’m hungry. But I’m alive. And for that, I am happy.

  • MaryRose

    This is quite possibly my favorite post that I have read on the site, full stop. (I should mention I have been reading weekly only a few months after it launched). Based on my own experiences searching for happiness, I think you’ve hit a very key idea that so much of happiness is about being here right now for the moment – being centered between what was and what will become, you know past PRESENT future, present is always centered – and when we get there it automatically quiets the mind, you know longer constantly analyze the past or always worry about how life will look in five years. I think happiness is firstly for ourselves and a chosen way to process the world, and despite a shitting day if we have found and chosen happiness we can walk away still happy, even if our neighbor cannot see it.

  • Molly

    This article reminds me a lot about my depression & people I know with depression. No matter how happy you are in any given moment, the sadness of knowing that moment will soon be over and you will again be in the darkness is often times overwhelming.

  • Liz Romero

    I’ve recently questioned happiness. What really does it mean? And I realize you’re right. It’s a moment. It doesn’t have to be all the time but it’s many moments and I realize, I’m actually happy! Thanks for sharing!

  • Rebekah

    Dang girl.
    I get it. And getting meta about it is the wooorst, but sometimes so necessary–processing the feelings I’d rather not acknowledge, let alone discuss.

    I think it’s important to differentiate between being happy and having joy. Because happiness is a feeling. Some days (weeks, seasons of life, etc) pass without happiness even being an option. Yet there can be a foundational joy that gives comfort and rest even in those unhappy periods that are just the shits. Those moments of leaving and putting away that clean, dry wine glass are easier to digest because they will be filled again. And the hustle in-between does add up. We may not have built a beautiful table to show the world but we wrote, we organized, we analyzed, we progressed, we affected someone. And that understanding persists past happiness. Which i think (feel, even?) is Joy.
    But those are just my thoughts.

    Happy (?) Sunday.

  • I’m already buying this book in Amazon… I feel completely identified with your description of always thinking about what we did and what are we going to do… I feel that everything that I’m doing is for the purpose of a second step… only a few times I realise that I’m really enjoying the moment, and year after year this moments decrease.

    Check out my latest Michael Kors jumpsuit look!


  • Komal Kazim

    It’s funny because I ask myself the same question constantly, and I
    always wonder if people who have the things I tend to conflate with
    happiness make *them* happy. For example, just reading about your
    weekend at your parent’s place in Southampton, I wondered, “Is this life
    for some people? To casually mention this sort of luxury, and then
    question their own happiness?” But I guess that isn’t what does it for
    any of us, is it? It’s like that episode of the Office where Andy Bernard says something to effect of wishing he knew he was in the good old days before he left them.

    Anyway, I appreciated this post.

  • It was only a few weeks ago that I discovered monocycle and it has helped me SO MUCH! I have only recently just finished from university and instead of just enjoying my summer of lazing around until mid-moring, baking whenever I feel like, having this stretch of time to do whatever I like, I’m just worried about my future and it’s the unknown that forever scares me. and it’s in every aspect of life, i can’t leave the living room to go to use the bathroom because the big spider in the corner of the room could be just about ANYWHERE when i get back, i can’t date the cute guy that’s showing interest in me cuz what if he turns out to be an asshole, I cant i cant i cant. i just wrap myself in a bubble and sit cozily worrying about everything. anyway, some times i just wake up feeling sad because i don’t enjoy the present and that’s when the monocycle episode helped, i think what helps is just getting on with things, just doing stuff like just getting out of bed and brushing your teeth will automatically start making you feel better. I also think that my unhappiness can stem from all these expectations that i have of myself, so i’m striving to be more humble and not caring about what others think is also great which can also stem from arrogance….like if someone thinks negatively of me, that will probably hurt because i expect people to think good of me? and isn’t that a little arrogant to think everyone should think highly of you? i dunno if i am way off topic here but letting go of those expectations has helped…a little, it takes practice! but practice eventually becomes habit/routine. and also being your own grandma helps (i read that on rookie) isn’t it so easy to look at the past and just think oh whatever was i worried about, it always looks prettier the present looks a mess and the future scary but the past for me is always great. so be your own grandma and take advice from 75 year old you, what would she say to current you?

  • dandhop

    Recently, I found myself thinking a lot of happiness and it’s relevance to “living in the moment” I read this poem and here’s my FB post which ties right into this lovely short story…sharing~~~

    August 23 at 7:58am · New York ·

    I want to share this Sanskrit poem by Kalidasa, an Indian playwright, and
    poet who was active during the 4th and 5th Century AD. It inspires me
    to make the most of each day, and I hope it will do the same for you. In
    essence, the message is: not let the illusions of your past or future
    rob you of the infiniteness of your present.

    Look to this day,
    for it is life, the very breath of life.
    In its brief course lie
    all the realities of your existence;
    the bliss of growth,
    the glory of action,
    the splendor of beauty.
    For yesterday is only a dream,
    and tomorrow is but a vision.
    But today, well lived,
    makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
    and every tomorrow
    a vision of hope.
    Look well, therefore, to this day.


  • Mary Tarpinian

    While constant happiness would be too exhausting, sometimes I feel what I call “unexpected moments of bliss”. They may happen when I’m running errands and driving home and its a picture perfect day. Or I may be gardening and being “in the moment”. It is an actual feeling of a little wave that travels over my entire body, that,in that moment, makes me feel entirely at peace and totally content. Almost a “divine reminder” that my life is good and I have many blessings to be happy and thankful for.

  • Lenam Mahj

    Not sure how I missed this article over the summer. But this might be my favorite thing I have read on Man repeller.

  • Zoe Harewood

    Give of yourself to those less fortunate and go to swing jive classes (most fun you can have standing up). You’re welcome.

  • Jennifer

    I think you need more Heather Havrilesky/Ask Polly in your life.

  • Roos .

    Happy has become watered down and commercialized, like love, friendship, sex. Just yesterday I decided that I am no longer going to strive to be happy. The word does not do justice to the fleeting moment of contentment, bliss, safety, beauty all rolled into one. Instead I will harvest moments like that. I will set out to create them for myself and others. Sometimes others will create them for and with me. It is unpredictable. It requires communication. And prep sometimes.

    Happiness is not an objective, not a goal, not something you can “just be”. It requires a whole machinery behind the scenes and even then the elements can not match up and create just murky soup where sparks were supposed to fly.

    A string of good moments, that I can savor whilst in them. I guess that will be my new… goal (dammit, there I go again)

  • Ciccollina

    I highly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.

    Breathe. Look at nature, really look at it. And be so so grateful to be alive.

  • Danielle Cardona Graff

    Ohhhhhhh I so relate, and truly enjoyed this read! I think creative people especially suffer from this sometimes inability to exist in the present, because of the fight against the clock to accomplish something before a certain time, and our work is often personal, or at least partially so. As a singer, my sometimes difficulty existing in the present comes from focusing too much on past accomplishments and failures, vs what I still need to accomplish in order to succeed. What HAVE I gotten done? What HAVEN’T I accomplished, vs what do I still need to do, and can I do it before it’s too late??? I also think most creative people are never truly 100% happy. That’s OK! Life’s ups and downs are what drive creativity, and our creativity is what gets us through and how we grow!

  • Christina

    Just wanted to say – beautiful piece, you’re a talented writer.
    Creating work like this must make you happy 🙂

  • LG

    I can empathize with the ‘past or future, not present’ orientation. I used to think I had this mindset because of the school schedule (like everything was going to be great if I could hang on and get through finals), but I’ve realized as an adult it’s a hard mental pattern to shake. For me, trying to notice little, ordinary moments of happiness has made me happier, and then just accepting when I have a bad day with the knowledge that it’s going to end and that things will likely be better tomorrow. I feel like recognizing the emotion and then letting it go helps me a lot with stress, anxiety, loneliness . . . whatever makes up the specific moment of unhappiness.

  • Elle

    I am crying at work. Thank you. (But no, really – thank you.)

  • 1) I believe happiness comes in brief moments, at least that’s how I experience it. When you can be in the moment and just be, and feel happy and grateful for everything around you. And most of all, no need to do anything, but just be.
    But this is not a state we should seek to be in all the time, and I think it’s impossible. Because what really drives us to to stuff and make change, is frustration. Unhappiness. And that will also come from long periods of a stale state, so the ups and downs are a necessary part of life.

    2) “There is no past, only the memory of the past, and there is no future, only an imagination of it. There is only now.” This is what I try to remind myself of when I overthink stuff.

  • Alexia

    I was happy. Then I decided it was a good idea to pick up and move across the country for college. I miss my home deeply. I’ve never felt more lonely. I nearly start crying on a daily basis. My roommate is sassy and competitive. I’m trying my best to find happiness, though; enjoying my classes, cooking myself dinner, going on walks, thinking about exciting things coming up. But the best part about it is that it makes me reconsider everything I thought about my life. I always thought I wanted to move away from home and find a career in a big city but now I’m plotting ways my career might take me back home.

  • Charlsey

    “My life, it seems, occurs in two phases: past and future.” This!! I keep trying to explain that I am never present to my friends, therapist, etc. and no one gets it. But this is exactly what I have been saying. Good to hear I’m not the only one. A woman who has her shit waaay more together than I do can suffer from the same thing. Life.

    • Jay

      That is the one that hit me most as well, Charlsey, and Leandra… cause I think those are the moments in which I am not happy – when I’m in the future (scared!!!!) or in the past (reminiscing… longing…)… happiness maybe really is being present in the now. And I’ve committed to giving that a try – savour the things as they come along…

  • Caroline Christianson

    This is a question I’ve sidelined ever since reading Rebecca Solnit in her most recent book, “The Mother of All Questions” (and I’ll just quote her point because it’s too lovely to summarize): “Other eras and cultures often asked different questions from the ones we ask now: What is the most meaningful thing you can do with your life? What’s your contribution to your world or your community? Do you live according to your principles? What will your legacy be? What does your life mean? Maybe our obsession with happiness is a way not to ask those other questions, a way to ignore how spacious our lives can be, how effective our work can be, and how far-reaching our love can be.”

  • Samantha Serbus

    Oh boy. This is so subjective, but I feel like I can say that I’m happy (most of the time – I don’t think it’s human to never be sad). When I was a kid all I wanted was to get older so I could get a job and provide a safe, stable life for myself. Growing up, I didn’t always experience those things and I just wanted out so I could start making my own decisions and create something better. I’ve done that. I’m by no means making a lot of money, doing a job I love or even know if I’m with the right man – but I’m safe and stable and more often than not, very much in charge of my life. And that’s everything for me; having the choice to surround myself with kind people, the voice to say what I feel, and the ability to stand on my own two feet.

  • Laura

    Americans place way too much emphasis on “being happy”. In my experience, the best reward is when you are in the moment doing something, or being where you are, no matter what that is, and you feel serenity. I have felt the feelings that Leandra describes in this piece – although it’s nice, the destination is not Southampton or dusk in the East Village, serenity is. You could be in prison and it doesn’t matter because serenity is really where it’s at.

  • i genuinely wonder at the class implications of “finding happiness.”

    • Senka

      Great point. It’s not the same, and well, we’re conditioned to perceive it through either socioeconomic background we were raised in, or the position we strive to achieve.

  • meaghanalexandra

    thank you for the honesty. this article was super refreshing and deeply relatable.

  • Such a great essay Leandra – and powerful. The end of seasons are always hard because they signify change and time passing. There’s always a little mourning in that, I think.

    Happiness is definitely a choice to some extent, and I believe it resides in being present and grateful. I’m someone who needs the outdoors, and could never live in a city like NYC (too many people!), but even my backyard in Montclair, NJ is green enough to keep me grounded. I need trees! Being outside, by myself or with my cat for a few minutes each morning is enough to clear my head and help me be present. Animals are a great tool for that – they are always listening and aware of what is happening right now!

    It’s good to think about the future, make plans, accomplish things and look forward, but being where you are, fully, is so much more important. I’ve always been a naturally positive person, but having battled severe depression after college, I have worked hard at keeping stress and anxiety at bay. The best thing you can do for yourself is slow down. Take a moment of quiet, turn off your phone, close out the city and breathe. Nothing brings happiness like slowing the f*** down and listening to the birds, staring at the night sky, or appreciating a colorful sunset.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t have days of unhappiness or frustration – it’s just that when you’re having those days, you’re much more aware of where you are and how you’re feeling. I guess it’s like paying attention? I feel like I notice other people’s stress so much more, and I can spot out people who are asleep in life. Most of the time, the drama is only happening in the brain and nowhere else!

    I sincerely hope it’s just a little blip! You have a lot on your plate, but make sure you make time to take care of yourself!

    Eva <3

  • Katie Love Little

    “Desire makes everything blossom; possession makes everything wither and fade.”
    ― Marcel Proust

    It’s the pursuit of happiness that keeps us going <3 Keep striving, Leandra!

  • grumblemama

    One of my favorite lines in my favorite books sums it up pretty well, I think: “Happiness is not a possession to be prized; it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.” Whenever I get all existential about whether or not I’m happy I repeat those words to myself.

    • Jay

      I agree with that… but I dont always have the strength to get me into this?

  • Coconut

    Hi Leandra,
    Did you ever think of moving somewhere else for a few months or even a year? I feel like it makes your feelings so much clearer.

  • Jeanie

    I’m starting to think I am generally happy until I get my “bad days,” and it’s mostly my brain chemistry keeping me down and not the actual state of my life. Sucks, but knowing that give me a way to work around it better. I’ve been having some luck with it! I probably would never alway be happy, but I just ask for as many happy days as I can get.

  • Abigail

    I’ve always found that happiness is a state that comes and goes but joy isn’t contingent on anything. Happiness is external and is based on people, situations, experiences, etc. I feel like joy sticks around when the aforementioned external circumstances are not up to par, and allows people to handle those things with courage and grace under pressure. Not everyone can be happy all the time. It’s unrealistic and exhausting and unfair. But joy can stick around for the long haul and allows one to approach a difficult situation with the optimistic mindset of “no matter what happens, I’ll be okay.” How can joy be found? That, I do not know. But that’s just my two cents!

  • Jay

    Am I happy?! Well, what a loaded question indeed… asked that to myself quite a bunch of time and admit that I own “Even happier” and “Happyness now” and stuff (there was a sale on amazon… ohm…)… they even kinda reasonated with me. Like the idea of gratitude is something that can contribute to happiness, I guess. But sometimes gratitude just feels really forced? Cause sometimes, well… I feel like crap and reminding myself of all the good things in life doesn’t help that much then…
    But what I figured that it’s actually ok to sit with those feelings. With sometimes not being happy, for whatever reason – bad day at work, messed up workout, argument with a close one, bad weather (which actually is a factor!!!!) – … cause I think we can’t always have it all. And that’s ok.

    (Plus: I try to do a random smile each day – at least one… but most of the time its 3-5 – to a stranger or just to myself…)

  • Ann Lee Gibson

    Been there. Lived it. Loved it. It almost killed me. But I still loved it. It’s called … wait for it … life. Leandra, you’ll get through this phase and go on to the next phase. You’ll make changes. And they’ll be the right or the wrong changes. You’ll learn and make other changes. How do I know this? Because I’m 71 years old. BTW, I hope you’re in therapy. I am. Because I have no idea what’s going to happen next and I’m still a control freak. Good news is I’m also happy. 🙂

    P.S. It’s going to be OK.

  • Heather

    I would be if I had a velvet yellow outfit like that photo.

  • You’re going to hate me for saying this, just as I did at your age, but here goes; you’re young, healthy, smart and successful. You have a family you love and are a child of privilege. Any of these can go at any moment so have gratitude for what you have now and enjoy it. I know this may sound harsh but I learned this the hard way myself.

  • Robert Crawford

    Huh, at my age (late sixties now), I find I don’t even think in terms of happiness anymore. Self-confidence turned out to be what mattered most. Being relaxed all the time, even under stress, is my definition of happiness. May not be true for everyone I guess.
    What experience I have has led me to believe that the source of all human discontent is the difference between reality and what we imagine reality should be. Certainly was true for me. Confidence, happiness, comes from losing our expectations and seeing reality for what it is, especially in ourselves. Want to be happy? Some skepticism and a little reflection and contemplation goes a long way.
    Life is a succession of moments experienced through the senses, the past lives only in our memory, the future only in our imagination. Focus on the work in front of you (and everything worthwhile is work) and forget the rest.
    Good article.

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I’m content, maybe not always happy, as when I step on the scales. I have so much to be thankful for in spite of what I’ve been through. My wonderful mother said you have to make your own happiness, and she was right. Right now, I’m not happy about my schedule this school year, but at least I have a job, and I’ll survive and retire at the end of the school year. Many people try to find happiness through accumulating material goods, and that sort of happiness is always temporary.

  • Perfumadelarosa

    The notion of “Happiness” is becoming overrated, stressing most of the time. We are requested to be “Happy” as if it’s the mere accepted natural thing, if am not happy then something wrong with me or am no longer appealing human and nature itself stop throwing magic on my way. Opposite to this loud race, I came to think what about not focusing on Being Happy as if its the Only way to live? people, books, media are terrorizing the concept itself by making it a “Must”. What about enjoying being “Ok, just Ok” and still perceive myself and the world in a good positive way? and yes, yoga, sports, faking optimism 24/7 wont force us into “Happiness”, it sometimes aggravate us when we fail to be that expected “Happy” person. I seize to try hard remembering what used to make me happy as a kid, but I fail to remember. How I was before the internet era? before being overdosed and concerned by others and the universe perceptions in general? How I was before excessive communicative nothingness? When did I stop to indulge and soak myself to the “Now” as I mostly lived and promoted to bounce between past fears & futuristic anticipations?

  • Fine Alchemy

    I feel every word that you wrote here! 4 months ago I lost my job. I really loved what I was doing (I did social media, writing…), I really do, but… I started to see that I was always waiting to leave the office. My heart beat so calm when I was in the weekend, and so quick when I was working. At some point, my weekend was talking about “I don’t want to go Monday”. Like I said, I really loved what I was doing, but something went wrong, maybe with myself. Now I know that it was nothing to do with me and yes with the team I worked with! But now, that I’m at home, I feel nervous because I need to find a new job! What’s the conclusion? I think that we’re not going be 100% happy and calm with our lives. But more and more I fell the need to live the moment. I can see that I even don’t use the phone so much when I hang out or take a walk in my city. Even though we’re not going to be 100% happy, we are humans and we should live the moment and breath all the good stuff that it’s giving us. I know that social media created a big fat lie about the other’s lives, but we should focus in ours. 🙂 Love you!*

  • Ansis Egle
  • I adore this post Leandra – it stuck with me the first time I read it, and I’ve come back to read it all over again. Something about the nature of either living in the past or the future, never the present, really resonates with me, thank you for being so insightful.

    Besma | Curiously Conscious