25 Mar 2024
by Frank Zaccari

Secrets for Getting Unstuck #3: Happiness vs Joy

What are the relationship traps in the Fire Swamp of life? Where are they? When will they arrive? How will we see them coming? The first step is finding...

Relationships are hard. They take far more work and effort than most believe or are willing to make. There is quicksand lurking at every turn. It is like the Fire Swamp in the movie The Princess Bride. Eventually, we will get stuck. The question is will you allow the quick sand to swallow you, or will you find a way to get unstuck. ~ Frank Zaccari, CEO/ Author/Speaker

What are the relationship traps in the Fire Swamp of life? Where are they? When will they arrive? How will we see them coming? Is there a roadmap so we can avoid them? We all want the fairy tale ending, the happily-ever-after story, the dream relationship, right? The first step is finding that “special someone” with whom you are willing, and they are ready to make some type of commitment.

I have spoken to many people regarding relationships. We will look at some of the more common reasons I have heard why people feel stuck.

Just Not Happy

Happiness comes from within and is usually associated with an event (wedding, promotion, a trip, your favorite team wins the Super Bowl). If we believe our happiness will come from things or events, we may want to prepare for disappointments. What happens after you achieve that “thing” or event you wanted? Of course, you are happy now, but for how long. Is that thing enough to keep you happy? Probably not!

Let me give you an example from my early life journey about tying happiness to things/events:

I wanted to be a professional baseball player from as early as I can remember. My thinking was if I achieve that, then happiness will follow. Since I was six at the time, there was a series of things and events that needed to occur first. I was happy when I made a Little League team; when we won the city championship two years in a row; when I made the All-Star team and advanced to a Babe Ruth League All-Star.

High school and more success came next; consecutive league championships, All-League honors, and an outside chance (very outside chance) of being selected in the Major League Draft. The success on the field should have made me happy, and at times I was.

But this happiness was fleeting. If I didn’t get two or three hits a game, or I made an error, or we lost a game should have won, or I didn’t have my “best game” when I knew a scout was at the game, I was not happy.

In fact, I found less happiness as I progressed from step to step. Why? I was doing something I loved, and I was pretty good. However, in my mind, consciously or subconsciously, I connected other off-the-field successes that would be associated with being a good athlete. The combination of on-field and off-the-field things that would make me happy.

Like what? Like being more popular in school- I never held a class office. Or being comfortable with teenage women- I failed miserably. Or a large circle of friends- not until my senior year in high school. And like being drafted or getting a full scholarship to play baseball- neither occurred. The things I believed would bring me happiness didn’t happen.

Here is an example from a colleague who tied happiness to a thing:

One of my women colleagues grew up in a very dysfunctional household. Mental, emotional, and physical abuse occurred. She was told being born was a mistake; she was a terrible child and would not amount to anything in life. Her many student and athletic accomplishments were dismissed as trivial and unimportant. Not much happiness there.

Her goal was to achieve a top-flight education. It would be the thing to bring her happiness. She worked like hell, graduated summa cum laude, continued until she earned a Ph.D. and taught at an elite university. As she told me, there were moments of happiness, but she was still haunted by “that terrible child that would never amount to anything.”

Tying her happiness to her thing, a Ph.D. didn’t work. As a parent, she realized she was starting to act like her mother and decided the cycle had to stop. She divorced her unsupportive husband and began her search for peace and happiness.  Years of therapy, energy, and spiritual healing brought her a place of acceptance and contentment.

My colleague and friend Joanne Victoria sent me the following social media message:

Frank Zaccari, Is there a price for happiness? Your thoughts on this, Frank! We can choose to be happy sometimes, all the time, or not at any time.

I gave Joanne’s question a great deal of thought. Is happiness the ultimate goal? If we are not happy, then are we a failure? No one is happy 100% of the time. There has to be more, but what? Perhaps the goal is not happiness. Maybe the ultimate goal is joy and gratitude for our life experiences. I sent the following response back to Joanne:

Joanne Victoria, thank you for the tag. Happiness is a choice. If things make one happy, then the happiness is fleeting. Maybe the better pursuit is joy. Regardless of good or bad times, happy or sad, one can have a joyful heart, spirit, and mind.

Joy comes from within

Before you say, “Right, Frank, that is like saying my wish is for world peace, let me tell you about three people who actually live with a joyful heart, spirit, and mind.” I have interviewed all three on my show more than once: Kathleen (Kat) O’Keefe Kanavos, Connie Bramer, and my brother Steve Zaccari.

Kat is a three-time breast cancer survivor. Although her doctors told her she was healthy, her dreams told her she had breast cancer. She went back to the doctors and demanded specific tests described in her dreams three different times. Three separate bouts of surgery, chemo, rehab, and recovery. Now think about that! Would you have a joyful heart, spirit, and mind if this happened to you? I am thinking, no! Yet Kat has not let these ordeals stop her from becoming a best-selling and award-winning author, speaker, book publisher, transformational adviser who helps many people understand and interpret dreams.

Kat has told me, “Having cancer is not the highlight of anyone’s life, but I am grateful for the strength and courage I didn’t know I possessed. Now very little upsets me. I look forward to helping others find joy every day.”

Connie Bramer is also a breast cancer survivor. Connie started writing a blog to keep people informed on her progress, thoughts, fears, and feelings. While one would expect some dark and distressing posts, Connie used humor. Her blog became a book called How Connie Got Her Rack Back. It accurately describes her battle and always makes her readers smile. She also started a non-profit named GYRB (Get Your Rack Back) and raised thousands of dollars to help people battling cancer in Albany, New York. She always has a smile and a story that only Connie can make funny.

One last example is my brother Steve, who was paralyzed in a car accident thirty-eight years ago. He became a quadriplegic at age twenty-four. His prognosis was, “He might live another five years.” After nearly a year in the hospital and endless battles with insurance companies, Steve went back to school. He earned a master’s degree at Buffalo State University and then was hired by the State University of New York at Fredonia to advocate for students with disabilities.

Steve was active in this role and instituted many improvements at the school. He then moved to Phoenix, where he serves on the Planning Commission, teaches confirmations classes at his church, runs two businesses, and mentors at the Arizona State Medical School advising medical students regarding diagnosis and treatment for spinal cord injuries. He was once asked, “If you could turn back the clock would you choose a life without the accident?”  His answer was,  “No.  I have become a better person and positively impacted many young people. It would not have happened without the accident.” The actual accident didn’t make him happy, but it did not steal his joy.

Happiness is fleeting; Joy is lasting.

So, to answer the happiness or joy question, I believe finding and living a joyful life is more important than fleeting happiness.


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