Happiness vs Perfectionism

Perhaps you read that article about how having a first child brings about as much unhappiness as getting fired or divorced. It’s not that surprising when you think of it — for all the joys of having a baby, there is also sleep deprivation, stress, and the feeling that you don’t know what the hell you are doing as a parent.

But even less exhausting and stressful happy events can make you feel bad. Going on vacation, starting a new job, getting married, falling in love — all these things are pleasant, and they all cause upset to your equilibrium, triggering a stress response in your body.

For perfectionists, there’s another layer to this phenomena. Feeling happy, achieving a goal, winning a prize… these can cause upset to a whole part of your identity: your inner perfectionist. That inner perfectionist part lives to worry, to plan, to be busy. When you accomplish something, there’s a break in all the planning and doing, and that perfectionist part faces a moment without anything to do.

Having nothing to do terrifies your inner perfectionist, because that part believes that its worrying and working is the only thing that is saving you from becoming a complete and total failure. So those moments when you achieve something and think you should be happy? Those are the moments when your perfectionist part is in a total panic about your impending doom. Happiness is a threat to your inner perfectionist. All that worrying energy has to go somewhere. So you may find yourself searching for something to be anxious about. Or you may fall into a depression, a period of grief or emptiness.

It’s easy to get sucked into this anxiety and depression, to believe whatever the perfectionist says you’re supposed to be worried about next. But you can try something different. When you notice the wave of sadness, or the searching for a new thing to worry about, try pausing and just breathing. Welcome in the sadness or anxiety, don’t try to figure it out, don’t try to fix it, don’t try to push it away. Just let it be, let yourself feel it. Often when we bring acceptance to these emotions, they come and go, and there’s spaciousness on the other side… you might find that there is actually room for you to feel some of that happiness your inner perfectionist has been trying so hard to avoid.