Are You Actually Happy?

Are You Actually Happy?

When clients come into my office for the first time, they fill out a brief form. One of the questions is “What is your goal for therapy?” In all of my years of practice, no one has said they want to be happy.

I can certainly appreciate and understand one wanting a lessening of pain, depression, anxiety or relationship struggles. I am not inferring that citing these as a goal is inappropriate. But I am aware that many do not think of happiness as a goal. 

People will select clothing to wear for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they wear certain attire for work, a uniform or a mode that is practiced in a given office or store. Perhaps it is chosen because of the weather. Perhaps it is chosen to be noticed. Those are valid reasons to consider in making a selection, but I wonder how many also think about what will feel good for them. When I select clothing because it makes me feel good, it enhances my mood.

We have all kinds of reasons to make choices in our lives that are taught to us. We are encouraged to make healthy selections, inexpensive selections, popular selections, practical selections. Were you ever asked what choice would make you happy?

I know a couple of students who recently applied to colleges. In discussions with them, I was aware that they were considering schools that had been advocated because of their reputation, their location or their cost. In two cases, they were accepted to their first choice schools, and when I asked them about it, they were happy about the act of being accepted, but were not enthused about attending the schools. 

The act of being admitted felt good; they had minimal enthusiasm about attending school there. When I asked both if they felt happy about going to these schools, they each said that they had not thought about going to college as a happy experience. 

Often, pursing responsible paths feels more like an obligation rather than an opportunity to be happy. We feel good about fulfilling expectations or roles, but rarely reflect on how it makes us feel. 

I had a client tell her husband in the office that she would be really happy if he were able to buy her a gift of his own choosing rather than always ask her what she wanted. She said that she always appreciated her gifts, but emotionally felt something lacking by not being surprised. It was meaningful to hear her use the word happy. Her husband was very open to the idea and said he would have to do more reflecting when he bought her a gift. 

At times on the treadmill, my time for thinking, I go over my calendar in my head and I feel happy when I am aware of upcoming events that I am truly looking forward to. Happy in anticipation, and, typically, happy during the event also. Give it a try.


Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to or through her website,