How do you define happiness?
How often do you ask yourself that question? Personally think about it for a minute. What is it that makes you happy in life?
Now, apply that concept to relationships. What defines happiness in the context of your day-to-day relationships?
Your answers will differ in details, but I can almost guarantee that they will follow a general theme.
When I ask this question of the people I work with, in various ways and through numerous examples, they describe relational happiness as a partnership without conflict.
And although I empathize with the notion, I cannot agree with the truth of the statement. Happiness is not only about “feeling good.”
Somewhere along the way, many of us have blurred the lines between what makes us happy and what is good for us.
Here is why that is so dangerous.
If what I am always trying to pursue is “feeling good,” the path that I am trying to take will be whatever accomplishes that. Before long, I am traveling through life like a river.
Rivers, when they come to resistance, go around it. They don’t push through obstacles. They wind around the large rocks and trees to form their own way through the landscape. They meander.
When you interview people who are successful (however they define that success) you find that they are not prone to meandering. They know what they want and take a direct pathway there.
I am not saying they don’t face challenges, or unexpected turns. What I am saying is that their focus and perseverance move them forward. Their circumstances don’t determine their path—they do.
We need a different mindset about where happiness comes from.
Happiness comes from learning how to deal with the problems.
Instead of viewing the problem as something to avoid, look at it as an opportunity. It is way for you to grow.
If we don’t address the problem or the pain in a relationship, it doesn’t just go away. It sits there.
Problems avoided become bigger. We can stuff the problems for a while, but they will come back around to haunt us later. It is nonsense to think that we don’t have to deal with our problems.
M. Scott Peck wrote a great book entitled, The Road Less Travelled.
It is an older book, but one that has stayed with me in the twenty years since reading it. Peck writes, “Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom. It is only through problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.”
His point is that avoidance of pain is a disaster recipe for life.
We will never reach happiness if we always let pain stop us, slow us down, or divert us. Learning how to relate to pain and problems is crucial to our psychological health and relationships.
Life is full of pain and problems. Obstacles to our goals are around every corner.
That is why, in order to reach true happiness, we must learn how to delay gratification and practice self-discipline.
Let’s talk about discipline for a minute.
People are who are disciplined are doing things that don’t always “feel good.” They are responsible. They are problem solvers. They are purposeful.
They are disciplined to do the things they need to do and that discipline comes from delayed gratification.
Why is delayed gratification important?
Delayed gratification is how you truly get to happiness. Keep the big picture in mind. If you only focus on how you feel in the moment, you won’t persevere through the pain.
This applies to difficult conversations. You want to be disciplined about communication and realize that momentary discomfort and disagreement can lead to a much stronger working or personal relationship.
After all, strengthening the relationship, not winning an argument, should be your goal.
In any kind of relationship, conflict happens. You have to talk about it. There are times when you have to wrestle with decisions. Times when you have to express your unmet expectations. Times when you need to talk about where you got hurt and why you feel at risk. These things are critical.
Difficult conversations ought to be the very springboard for strengthening the relationship.
Many people see difficult conversations as something that will rip the relationship apart. The reality is that difficult conversations don’t rip relationships apart—they strengthen them.
Conflict is healthy and necessary in any relationship. We have to learn how to work through our differences and unmet expectations. We have to work through hurt, pain, rejection and disappointment. Difficult conversations are one of the ways we process pain and one of the ways we problem solve.
Take a different approach than the winding river. When problems hit you and conflict builds—lean into the opportunity for growth and push forward.
These are just a few insights that will help you navigate those critical conversations in your life and career, but there’s so much more.
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