Do You Deserve To Be Happy?

“You deserve to be happy.”

A charming thought—and one you’ve probably heard countless times from confidants, after expressing a desire to make some sort of change in your life. Maybe you want to break up with a boyfriend, attend college 3,000 miles from home, make a risky career move, or want to have a third baby.

Others wanting you to be happy is sweet, but not enough to initiate change. I study mothers all around the world, and if there’s one thing I know to be true, it’s this: People can tell you all day long that you deserve to be happy, but you’ll never make real and lasting change in your life until you believe that you deserve to be happy.

I was talking to my friend Molly the other day. Molly recently went through a messy divorce after 18 years of marriage. The trials and tribulations of the experience almost undid her. But she came out the other side of the pain, and she’s starting to shine again. What’s interesting is that Molly’s journey from unhappiness to happiness has, for better or worse, encouraged others to talk about their struggles too. 

Because Molly works in a profession where she interacts with different kinds of people all day, others started sharing their own stories with her. As in, “Psssst. Don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t been happy in years.”

Molly’s now hearing this from women both young and old: women who want to change careers but can’t imagine taking the leap; women tied to lifestyles that drain their energy and enthusiasm; and women who make life decisions based on other people’s opinions instead of what they know they need for themselves. 

Like me, Molly now knows how prevalent it is for women who suffer and feel powerless to change. More often than not, these women whisper their worries while darting their eyes from right to left, terrified that someone will hear them and learn the truth. So many women I encounter are unhappy, and they’re completely unwilling to admit they’re unhappy. And that makes me and Molly very unhappy. If you’re sad, I think you should say that you’re sad. Don’t say you’re fine; admit that you’re struggling. Truth begets truth. 

When you tell the truth, you find your truth and then you find your happy.

If you want to make lasting change in your life, you need to start by saying your struggles out loud. We’re so fearful of what other people think of us, but I’ve learned firsthand that when you speak out and speak up, you win the peanut gallery’s support and not its judgment.

You’ll get the help and advice you deserve, because by saying it out loud, you proclaim that you deserve it. I’ve come to learn that we don’t get what we think we deserve, because we don’t actually believe we deserve it. And so, we keep quiet.

Practice saying it out loud. Say what your heart tells your head every day: I don’t like my job. I wish I were a better mother. I need to start eating better. I want to get out of this relationship. I haven’t been happy for years.

If you’re on the cusp of making a decision that will make you happy, say so.

This narrative is part of my own story. Several years ago, I was terrified to start my own company—not because I was scared it would fail, but because I didn’t believe I deserved it. One day, in the middle of my indecision, I had the following talk with my very blunt husband:

Me: I feel like sometimes I don’t deserve the success I’ve achieved. I mean, why me? Richard: Because you made it happen. Me: Oh. Right.

I didn’t believe I deserved the success I had achieved, so I stayed in situations and scenarios that prevented me from living my best life. I kept quiet.

Not anymore.

I deserve to be happy and so do you. But none of us can achieve happiness on the wing and prayer of someone else’s well-wishes (“You deserve it!”).

Of course you deserve to be happy. But to achieve it, you have to first believe it.

Katherine Wintsch