You Don’t Have To Live Up To Societal Expectations To Be Happy

Are you creating an intentional life? One that is enriching and true to who you are – your hopes, your passions, your values. Living intentionally does not mean achieving a life of perfection, for perfection is just an illusion. Rather, building your life with intent and consciousness is about tuning out external noise and looking inwards for guidance and making decisions based on what truly drives you, what brings you joy, and what success means for you. Taking responsibility for creating the life you want makes sense and seems almost obvious. Yet the majority of us do not lead our everyday life in this way. So, what makes us reluctant to determine the route ahead for ourselves and sit firmly in the driving seat, foot to the floor and not stopping to look in the rearview mirror? 

The answer lies in the prescriptive framework for life that we are presented with from a young age. From very early in life, we are conditioned to see the world, and our role within it, through a set of social expectations and norms that perpetuate longstanding traditions of how men and women should build their lives. Societal norms serve as markers against which a successful life is judged. Our concept of self is intimately shaped by the attitudes, behaviors, social roles, and values that a particular culture and time has considered to be acceptable. Bit by bit, we are encouraged, as children and young adults, to prefer conformity over authenticity and to relinquish personal agency in creating our own life circumstances.

By the time I am 30, I will be a teacher, I will own my own home, I will be married and have two children. No doubt we have all made similar declarations about our perceived future life, as though such things are a must and each is a guaranteed milestone that will be ticked off the shopping list of life with relative ease. Therein lies the false social paradigm that is perpetuated even in today’s modern culture and societies. Firstly, it is no one’s God given right to be granted these things, since nothing in life is certain; secondly, there is no magical age by which these things have to be achieved or else they are no longer available to us; and thirdly, possibly most important of all, these are not mandatory obligations in life. Such achievements are in fact outdated markers of success, and not reaching them by a given point in time is neither a personal failing nor the cruel hand of fate denying you happiness and fulfilment.  

In the absence of conscious awareness, we buy into culture’s constructs and definitions of a good life with a passivity that belies the truth—we all have choices and personal agency, and our destiny is not predetermined. Each human has a right to their own life experience, one that is shaped by their own evolving beliefs, desires, and values. As individuals, we can choose who we are and who we become. Feel empowered to challenge the prescription laid down by culture and push back against binary social constructs of what is good and bad, what is acceptable and what is frowned upon, and what is success and what is failure. Connect with your true desires and live in pursuit of an authentic life, rather than allow society’s expectations to burden you with their weight. There are no limitations to what you can do, have, or be. Be a seeker and live in accordance with what feels true for you at a given time. Never stop exploring, learning, evolving, and growing. 

Humans are not a homogenous population and life is not one size fits all. My journey is not the same as yours nor that of anyone else upon this Earth. Each of us is unique in our dreams, expectations, ideas, personalities, values, and talents. So give yourself permission to let go of others’ expectations of you and to let go of who you think you should be in accordance with imposed social norms. Become who you want to be and rise up to your own positive expectations instead; this is called living free. Set your own definitions of happiness and success that are fluid and in complete alignment with the authentic life you wish to lead, for you and no one else. This is the first step from passivity to agency and from being moulded by the situations in which you exist. Know who you are first, then become a master of your own destiny and mould situations the way you want them. Rediscover the curiosity about oneself and the world that once existed in abundance as a child. Choose authenticity and intuition over conformity and pursue a life that is uniquely your own and feels right for you. 

Everyone you meet is always quick to ask if you have a career, have a partner, are married, have children, or own a house, as though there is a standardized approach to achieving a happy and productive life. What is worse, and we’ve all been there, is when you answer no, no, and no to any or all of the above and then are instantly met with some cliché response, trotted out with a tone of sympathy for what the other person sees as your apparent misfortune. What they do not ask is “Are you happy?” or “What exciting things are happening in your life at the moment?”  Let others continue to build their life within the limits of cultural pressures and societal expectations if they so wish, but stop feeling compelled to apologize or justify your own choices and where you are at in life. Do not live your life to please other people. After all, you make the rules, you define your own success and happiness. It is time to live your own life, in your own unique way and without any apologies.