In the second half of the book she goes on to look at principles that are important for helping us find happiness, whatever our happiness style. One of these is “The Principle of Good Enough”- the idea that by constantly striving for perfection we rob ourselves of happiness and put ourselves under unnecessary pressure.
I have seen this happen in my own life, even in one of the areas that brings me most happiness. I think the quote in the picture above sums it up. I was definitely on that perfectionist train and heading fast for Crazy Town before I finally jumped off (or possibly fell off, but at least I escaped!)
Music has always brought me happiness, however the year I spent at music college was one of the most unhappy of my life. There were difficult personal circumstances which didn’t help, but really it was the atmosphere of relentless pressure, harsh criticism and hostility, plus the fact that every friendship was marred by rivalry and competition which really pushed me to the edge.
I had never had much confidence- music was probably the only thing I had any confidence in- but what little I had was quickly stripped away, leaving me with a deep sense of inadequacy. Performance, which had always been a joy, became a source of stress and anxiety.
We were driven to ever higher standards, and I certainly worked, and tried as hard as I could. I practiced scales so much that year that even now, years later, when I get stressed I feel my fingers automatically moving in those familiar patterns!
We had to attend performance classes and play in front of around 50 other students who then had a free-for-all to give feedback, which was usually brutal. It felt like facing the judges on the X Factor! There were days when I went home with my whole body aching, just from the stress of it all.
I can’t claim that I had a close relationship with God at the time, but sometimes I would pray just to get through the day. There was a Christian Union at the college and I considered going as I thought it might help, but I never made it. I found out where the group met and I stood at the end of the corridor and watched as people entered the room. There were only about 8 of them, but no-one I knew, and, try as I might, I could not pluck up the courage to go in.
I think the moment when I finally saw the light came one day in my clarinet lesson when I was told to go and practice one bar of music over and over again for two hours so that I could get it right. It was about five seconds worth of music that I was being asked to practice repeatedly for two hours!
That was when I began to realise where the perfectionist train was heading. I could spend two hours getting that bar of music perfect, but when I had done that there were several other bars to work on, and even once that piece was perfect, there were only going to be other more difficult pieces of music to learn. It was as if I could see the future laid out in front of me, an endless striving for perfection that was never going to be attainable. I was never going to feel good enough, and this was not what I wanted my life to be. It was never going to make me happy.
So I jumped… or I fell… I’m still not sure.
Either way, it was painful, and I felt like a failure and a quitter, but it was still better than allowing myself to be carried to a place that I knew was not healthy, and I’m just glad I got off when I did.
Over the next few years I completed my music degree in a different place where the pressure was much less and people were much friendlier, and gradually I learned to find happiness in music again.
More importantly I got my priorities sorted. Music had become my identity, and it was only by having that stripped away that I realised that what I really needed was God- that my value, my worth and my identity needed to come from him alone.
Honestly, there are still times when I climb back on the perfectionist train and travel a couple of stops, but I am learning, and I am much quicker to jump back off again.
If you’re on that train, I urge you to do the same. It is not the way to happiness. It truly does rob us of happiness because, when we’re seeking it in achievement or success or other people’s opinions, it is fragile. We may find it for a moment, but it will never last.
But when we find it in God, it is eternal and it is absolutely secure. That’s the journey I want to be on.
“I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-9)
“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Find out more about “The Happiness Dare here.