Dear Dr. Norquist:

My neighbor, Susan, always seems so happy and content. I enjoy her company very much, but I can’t understand how she can stay so seemingly content most of the time. She is a single mother, with two young children, constant worries about money and an ex-husband who is always interfering in her life. 

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I, on the other hand, am nearly 30 and single with few responsibilities outside of my job and I continue to find it hard to be happy. I do not have any major difficulties or problems in my life but I do feel guilty that I cannot be happy. If Susan can be happy despite her problems, how can I learn to overcome the feelings that my life is empty and unfulfilled and find happiness?  

Dr. Norquist responds:

Why can’t I be happy? This is a question many must have wondered about at some time in their lives. Why is it that Susan seems so happy? How can she be so happy with all the problems and responsibilities she has in life? If she can be happy, I should be able to be happy.

I would invite you to stand back and look objectively at Susan for a moment. How does she seem to view difficult situations in her life? Does she view them as challenges she must meet or does she see herself as a victim of an unjust world? Is she kind in her opinions of and expectations of herself, or does she criticize herself, and focus on her limitations and imperfections? Does she take responsibility for her life, or tend to blame others or life for what happens to her? Does she seem to have an inner source of strength and trust in herself in life or does she seem to flounder and define herself according to what she believes will meet others approval? I invite you to contemplate this, and then look at your own typical responses and perceptions.

With my clients, I often notice that consistent states of happiness and contentment do not appear to be as related to outer life circumstances as they do to the attitudes and perceptions they have of themselves and the world, and an inner sense of strength and centeredness that seems to nourish them. The most important step you can take in moving towards creating more happiness in your life is to recognize that you do not need to have anything “out there” change for you to be happy. You have the power, responsibility, and control to affect your happiness, right here, in this present moment, by looking at your attitudes and perceptions, and to learning to connect with your own inner source of strength.

Check out Dr. Norquist’s new blog  GrowingThroughParenting.com

(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ  07030 or www.chaitanyacounseling.com or by e-mail at drnorquist@chaitanyacounseling.com. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. Ó 2020 Chaitanya Counseling Services