The Guilt of Feeling Happy

Plus Mantras to Find Your Joy

Kolina Cicero


Photo by George McVeigh on Unsplash

I am a steadfast habit tracker and goal seeker, always aspiring to do/see/feel/experience more. It’s the way I’m wired; I barely even think about this side of me, I just live into it. But while I’m constantly on the hunt for more, I recognize that I’ve got it pretty good. (I wouldn’t say I have it all, I think it’s crass. It’s also untrue.) I get to stay home with my children and soak up every little moment with them I can before they grow up and leave the metaphorical nest. I have a partner who works hard so I can stay home. We’re all in good health, and I get to use my brain in ways that fuel me creatively, getting paid to do something I love. As someone who has known her calling since she was young, this is deeply satisfying.

It’s all satisfying, it’s all providing me with many moments of joy — and yet I want more. Financial freedom, travel, success — I want it all. Enter my cognitive dissonance. Why do I want more when I already have so much? Does that make me greedy and ungrateful?

And then there are those who have less, for whom joy is something they must actively pursue, only to maybe, possibly, if they’re lucky, access it. I feel bad about it, like being so happy — happier than I’ve ever been (except for maybe that year I lived in Italy?) — is somehow not good. Can I celebrate this joy when so many in my orbit struggle to find it?

These questions run amuck in my head as I begin to plan out my next year. They make me question whether I can celebrate my happiness when I know so many others are in a continuous battle with their own. I’m aware it’s not my war to fight, and me being less happy isn’t going to provide others with more happiness. Joy isn’t a pie; my piece doesn’t get smaller when yours gets bigger. If anything, I’d say it’s the opposite; joy multiplies. It’s the antidote to the universal truth that hurt people hurt people.

Even so, sometimes when I consider all that I’ve got, then think about what else I want, I feel a sense of guilt, like the simple act of desiring more makes me ungrateful for all that I have.

No more of this! It isn’t wrong to be happy. I am not better or worse than anyone else because I have a life in which I experience sincere joy daily. Empathy is a true gift to…