In Grief, Is Being Happy Really the Goal?

“I just want to be happy…”


How many times have we said this in life? Before loss, when someone asks what we want, or how we picture our future as it lays out in front of us, how many of us have said, “I just want to be happy”. What’s strange is that in some ways it’s such a big request, and yet in the simpler times it doesn’t feel like we’re asking for much at all. It’s not like we’re expecting to be ecstatically happy each and every day, just a consistent and stable amount of contentment. That’s all…

And then someone we love dies.

Suddenly, being happy, being content, or even feeling “just” a quiet sense of peace seems to be completely out of reach and not attainable at all. Yet, it’s what many friends and family will say to the griever: “I just want you to be happy again”.

As well intentioned as this simple statement is (and I will always err on the side of believing in a person’s good intentions) I think it can leave the griever with two very distinct feelings.

#1 – yeah, I’d like to be happy again too


#2 – I can’t imagine ever being happy again

It speaks to a bigger issue and somewhere along the way I think we may all be missing the mark. As a griever looks ahead, and takes the steps to move forward, don’t we need to stop and think about whether being happy should really be the goal at all?

I read something recently that said, “Happiness is just one emotion”. It was talking about the search for happiness that so many people are on, and it pointed out that if “all” we’re asking for is to be happy, then every single one of us is setting ourselves up for failure.

Happiness is just one emotion. There’s anger and sadness, interest and joy. Apprehension and trust, searching and fulfillment. There’s contempt, remorse, annoyance and fear. There’s optimism, awe, love and admiration. And a life truly lived is one where we get to experience the highs and the lows, the sweet and the bittersweet.

Throughout any part of the timeline, happiness in grief can feel like an ill-fitting suit. It may be what friends and family think you want and what you need. It could even be what you think you want and need.

But perhaps a shift in perspective is what’s needed instead, along with the recognition that some part of us always will not only mourn -but will WANT to mourn a great love lost.

This pain is YOURS. This pain and this sadness, and this feeling that is so far from happiness at this moment is so closely connected to a deep and undying love. This ache that weighs heavy in your head, your belly and your heart…this is what love feels like.

I know many a griever who, after a few months or years past their loss, start to feel “happy” again. Even just for a day. An afternoon of fun, or after a nice night out. And then? The guilt that comes with that happiness. The ill-fitting suit of it, the way that type of happiness just does not feel right anymore.

Being happy can feel like forgetting- and that’s the last thing any griever could ever want.

So should a griever be seeking happiness in the form they knew it before, or is there something else to be striving for instead?

Start small by thinking of pleasant feelings that, for the most part, can be easily attained. The aroma and warmth of a good cup of coffee. The coziness of getting into pajamas at the end of a long day. The contentment of a satisfied stomach after a good meal. The beauty of nature, and fresh air wherever you are, at any time of the year.

And then build from there. Find moments that are the right kind of quiet-where silence brings peace instead of longing. Look for moments of goodness, in friends, family, and strangers.

Find balance and know that we can be filled with both pain and purpose. That we have room for the good and the bad, and we don’t need to set goals that we’ll never be able to reach.

When calm, peace, or joy touches you, even for a moment- celebrate it. Let go of the guilt. Recognize the ability of love and loss to co-exist, and that a life lived without a loved one in it will forever be a jumble of feelings…and not just one emotion.


When struggling to cope, sometimes it’s only our fellow griever who can understand. Are you needing more support? Join us today to meet grievers just like you: www.griefincommon.com.

Looking for more individual support? Now offering one-on-one grief coaching. This type of support allows for individual attention and focus to your specific issues, related to your life and loss. It will focus on helping you find motivation, courage and validation as you navigate this next chapter of your life. Click here to learn more: Grief Coaching.


One thought on “In Grief, Is Being Happy Really the Goal?”

  1. I lost my mom/BFF 3 years ago. I’ve lost others (my dad, etc.) but no one loss has impacted me in such a ‘nuclear blast’ sort of way. I don’t have any family so am totally alone. I have a busy job in NYC and commute from NJ but the spaces between commuting are empty. I sent the following to a girlfriend the other day because she couldn’t seem to understand why I can’t just pick myself back up and be happy, move on, do all the things I’ve wanted to do as my relationship with my mom was very complex. To add to matters, the week prior to her death in the hospital was traumatic and I am still reeling from that horrid experience mostly in part to insensitive hospital staff and improper diagnoses given to me my numerous doctors – I didn’t know which way we were going. Anyway, I am lost and wish I could find a group or some people who can relate to this deep loneliness and hopelessness that I’ve never experienced. My mom filled my life even though we were not the perfect mom/daughter – we had each other, vacations, and relied upon each other. Now I’m lost.

    This is what I sent my friend – maybe others can relate:
    For me, I used to live in joy now it seldom comes around unless I force it.
    I live in sorrow, something unfamiliar, and pray for the seconds that joy raises its head.
    I never used to cry but now I cry all the time, can cry in a fleeting second with a passing thought – maybe I should move to Hollywood and try to become an actress.
    I can’t find a balance anymore – it’s all lopsided onto the sad side but most don’t see that.
    I don’t think I will ever find joy again only in a friend like you or maybe when I go on vacation and stand alone at the Caribbean sea taking in the lapping waves and beauty under the sunshine as if it’s going to grow green on me – i guess I sort of feel like a plant.

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