I took a two month blog hiatus to turn 40 which I did exactly one week ago. Over the years, I found that many INFPs I’ve met in their 40’s and 50’s are some of the happiest people I know. So am I happier now than I was last week?
Happiness and Control
Happiness is directly proportional to the control we feel we have in fulfilling our needs.
For example, I know a few INFPs wanting new jobs. Their current one is terrible and getting worse by the hour. They’ve had good jobs turn bad before. What they did before was quit, take some time off, then sent out a zillion resumes and got rehired quickly after. They have great qualifications, but in this economy they feel stuck.
They’re more unhappy because they feel stuck. They’d be less unhappy with a bad job situation if they felt they could quit at any time and get another job immediately. If we feel we have no control in getting a job, a relationship, a fulfilling life and that something external like the economy or fate controls our ability to meet our needs, then we are unhappy.
Quick Overview of our six Critical needs: Certainty, Uncertainty, Love/Connection, Critical Significance, Growth, and Contribution.
In my early 20’s, my biggest need was Love and Connection. All I wanted was a girlfriend. I also felt I had no control over that. It seemed the only way I would ever find a significant other would be for the universe would send someone my way who would recognize something special in me. I wasn’t good at dating or meeting girls. It was up to fate. All my other accomplishments didn’t make me happier because the one thing in my life that I needed at that time, I felt I had no control over.
Happiness is about the feeling of control not the feeling of accomplishment. A few years later, I met someone. It wasn’t officially becoming boyfriend and girlfriend that made me happy. I was happy long before she became my girlfriend. It was meeting her and both of us knowing we had potential together. Having a girlfriend was no longer in control of the whims of the universe. The beyond-my-control part of the equation was out of the way because “fate” brought someone my way. Having a potential girlfriend wasn’t what made me happy. Knowing that I was the only one who could screw up from there on made me happy.
Happiness Isn’t Satisfaction
Satisfaction comes from accomplishment, from getting what we want. We work hard for a promotion or save for a vacation. We get the promotion. We go on vacation. At first we feel happy, but the promotion came with more responsibility that took more time and the vacation didn’t turn out as perfect as we has hoped. We’re happy but also unhappy at the same time.
The reason for this happy/unhappy pull comes from confusing satisfaction with happiness. Fulfilling a desire makes us feel satisfied whether it’s buying something we wanted or achieving a goal. Growth is all about understanding and meeting needs. When we accomplish something we have proof that we are in control of our Growth need. This is where happiness from satisfaction stems.
Since we feel satisfaction and happiness when we accomplish something, we think they’re the same. However, we’re only happy if we accomplish something that makes us grow from where we were before. That’s why we may get a sense of satisfaction doing a big house cleaning, but it doesn’t make us that much happier because we know we’ll be doing it again in a few months.
Completing regular chores doesn’t help us grow because we’ve done it before. That’s why doing the same things day after day brings unhappiness for many INFPs. There’s no feeling of growth. There’s no sense of control over our growth unless we allow ourselves to do things that challenge us.
That’s why INFP quickly grow dissatisfied with jobs after the learning process. As soon as the job becomes the same variation of tasks, it no longer meets our Growth need. Unless that job also meets a Contribution need (helping others) or a Critical Significance need (makes you feel special) then job satisfaction diminishes.
Happiness and Dissatisfaction
Since happiness and satisfaction are separate things, we can be happy and dissatisfied. It’s called the comfort zone. Eventually, INFPs shift their locus of control internally. We focus on the things that we can do to affect change which gives us a sense of control over our path in life.
However, having a sense of control and doing something with it are two different things. My 30’s was a period of great happiness and great dissatisfaction. The happiness came from feeling I could control my own destiny. The dissatisfaction came from not doing anything about it.
I have a wonderful family, a good job and for the most part I’m free from major worries. Basically, I felt only I could screw up my life. However, not screwing up my life isn’t the same as making my life better. Dissatisfaction came from resting on my laurels. I could have been more but didn’t do anything because I was happy with what I had.
INFPs start unhappy and satisfied. In our 20’s, we get a job. We get a significant other. But it seemed by chance because if we lost the job or the significant other, we aren’t sure how we got them in the first place. Eventually we grow into ourselves. If we lose the job, we’ll find another one. If we our hearts get broken, we realize that we can cope and find love again. We become more happy as we feel more sure about getting things we need.
However, INFPs move to happiness and dissatisfaction because as we become more sure in our ability to meet our needs, we recognize more potential in ourselves then we thought. That recognition of greater potential in turn grows our vision of our Ideal Self. We create the Ideal Self that matches our potential. As our potential grows, our Ideal Self grows making it seem harder to reach. I call it the Paradox of INFP Growth: dissatisfaction grows as we become increasingly better at making ourselves happier.
Happiness is a Moving Target
I’ve never understood being generally happy. It’s like breaking your leg and saying I’m generally healthy.
Unmet needs are like injuries. In a car accident, we don’t notice contusions on our face if we have a broken femur. At 20, I never thought about my lack of Certainty (no job stability) because of my lack of Love and Connection. When I finally did get a girlfriend, I started noticing all the other unmet needs. I realized how little control I had over meeting those other needs. So at 22, I was happy about the girlfriend and unhappy about everything else.
We are happy about some things and unhappy about others. This is a constant condition and it’s okay. In daily life, we only have so much time to divide among our 6 critical needs. Maybe we focus on work (Certainty) because we’ve been slacking lately, but that takes time from family (Love/Connection). Maybe our job doesn’t make us feel important (Critical Significance) so we volunteer (Contribution) or take up a hobby that challenges us (Growth).
Striving for balance doesn’t work well because if something hurts more, it’s hard to concentrate on what hurts less. If we accidentally trip and skin our knee and break our arm, we’re not going to find balance and treat them equally. We fix what hurts the most. If we don’t have a job, we focus on paying food and rent (Certainty) before we worry about moving to a job that makes us feel fulfilled (Critical Significance). It’s rare that we’ll ever be able to meet all 6 of our needs equally. We concentrate on what’s urgent now and then move on to the next one.
It’s possible to be happy with everything, just not all at the same time.
Happiness Now and Then
Happiness is a journey not a destination. You don’t become happy. You’re happy becoming. I think about happiness much less at 40 than I did at 20.
At 20, I was obsessed with figuring out what I could do to make myself happy. If I learned some esoteric skill (fencing, Tarot, martial arts, etc.), I’d have Critical Significance in knowing something most other people didn’t. If I limited my friendship to a select group of people, then of course I’d naturally build stronger Love and Connection bonds. This is what I thought at 20. But friends came and went and no one really cares what I knew unless it helped them. Everyone is trying to meet their needs too.
At 40, I think about happiness occasionally. Being happy isn’t something that I have control over. Controlling your happiness is forcing yourself to remember something that’s right at the tip of your brain. The harder you try to remember, the more elusive it becomes. The harder I try doing things that I think will make me happy, the more disappointed I become when the results are less ideal than I imagined.
Since I have no control over making myself happy then focusing on it only makes me unhappy. Instead as I’ve gotten older I focus on the one thing I can control: me—my thoughts, my beliefs, my attitude and my actions.
I wait less. I value my time more so I’m less prone to lose it in the randomness that seeps into INFP life. I find myself saying “Where did my day go” less often. Even if I fritter away my hours, I stay present in my less than productive activities instead of “comfort-zoning” on auto because misplacing days is always much worse than losing them on purpose.
When I don’t think about happiness, being happy is simpler.
At 20, I created monumental goals. Accomplishing these goals would make me happy. The more I thought about those goals, the more stuck I became at the scope of what I wanted to do. Today, I still have those exact same goals.
The difference is that I don’t focus on accomplishing those goals. I focus on becoming the person who can accomplish those goals. I just do one thing that makes be better than I was the day before. Sometimes that one thing is so small I don’t feel a sense of accomplishment doing it. I only know that I’m better off than yesterday. Then on those occasions where I do think about happiness like when I’m writing about it for this blog, I realize that I’m happier than I’ve been before.
Then I stop thinking about it. Not thinking about happiness makes me better off than I was the day before, better off than last week when I was in my 30s.