The Happiness Gap

January 19, 2024

Twenty-five plus years ago I was a life coach and studied personal development, which brought me to learn all about something I call the Happiness Gap.

What is the Happiness Gap?

The Happiness Gap is the dissonance between what you want and what you do. It’s the space between what matters to you and what happens in your day-to-day life. So if you have a value that’s important to you, and you’re not living your life by that value, you’re going to have a lack of contentment, and within that gap is where your pain and suffering lies.

Now, it’s really easy to attribute that pain to outside factors. I know because I did it all the time. I lived a lot of my life saying, “If he would just, if she would just…then I’d be totally fine. Then I’d be happy.”

The problem with that is you are turning over your happiness to someone else. You are turning over your power. And in doing so, you end up trying to accommodate, to morph yourself into being a certain way in an attempt to make things right. To chase the feeling of happiness.

What this looks like for many of us is that someone we love struggles with substance use disorder and mental health, and we have lost our freedom as a result.

How Do We Close this Gap?

You’ve probably heard that happiness comes from the inside. I hate to be cliche, but it’s true. Real true contentment is an inside job. If you made a list of the things that made you happy, it would probably have a lot of external stuff, like food and relationships and experiences and possessions. And while those can all provide happiness, it’s temporary. Fleeting. It isn’t deep, grounded contentment. This pattern of looking for it from the outside is exhausting and never ending.

Deep contentment comes from turning the situation back to the inside.

Instead of “If they would just…” it becomes “If I would just…” More specifically, you do this by looking at your values, standards, boundaries, and needs.

What Are Your Values?

A value is a set of beliefs about something that matters to you, a guiding principle. Our personal values help us differentiate between good and bad, and we all have different values. Common ones might be valuing integrity over dishonesty, or valuing hard work over cutting corners. A value of mine is wanting to be seen and to see others. Write down some of yours.

That dissonance of the Happiness Gap comes from your values not aligning with how things and people are showing up in your life. It comes from your standards not being met.

Know Your Standards

Standards are the actions we take that align with our values. A standard is: “I am someone who…

A standard I have around my value of wanting to be seen or be part of, for example, is “I am someone who is on time or early.” And when I wasn’t operating with any conscious awareness of this standard or my values, I just left it to chance, often feeling frustrated with myself or others without understanding why. Once I became aware of this personal code, I was able to keep myself on track, and what’s more, I was able to set boundaries that prevented me from allowing myself to be taken off track by others.

Set Your Boundaries

Boundaries are behaviors you ask others to hold in order to help you meet your standard.

My boundary around my standard of being on time was that if my husband wasn’t ready for church by the time we needed to leave in order to be on time (or early!), I would leave without him and save him a seat. I was afraid to set this boundary at first as it felt like I was being mean. But by setting this boundary, I no longer could use his behavior as an excuse for my standard not being met. I was also able to let go of the resentment that my standard being violated created.

I took my power back over the situation.

Understand Your Needs

Here’s the thing about needs: we all have them, and they always get met. Often in unhealthy ways if we aren’t conscious about meeting them intentionally. They can come at you sideways, sometimes destructively, and create even more chaos in your life.

By knowing your values and living by your standards, you can instead make sure your needs are met in healthy, consistent ways, closing the Happiness Gap in the process.

So tell me, what are your personal values? What standards do you hold around them? How are your needs getting met? Share with me in the comments below or in our Friends of Tipping Point online community.

Lastly, let me know what kind of support you need and how I can help you offer healthy help to your loved one, so their needs can start getting met in a way other than their addiction.

This is what we do at Tipping Point Recovery. We do it in groups and we do it privately. Let us know how we can help.

To your happiness.

Leave a Comment


  1. Heather

    This is very helpful to me, thanks for the guidance. One of my values is having open, honest communication with those close to me. I struggle with maintaining close relationships with some family members because of this. I get upset when they aren’t open and honest. I’m not sure how to move past this.

  2. Susan Sexton

    Thank you Kate for the insight! Top of my list of values is Respect. It can truly be considered “in the eye of the beholder” but for me, it’s treat people as you would want to be treated and respect for authority or position = mother, wife, coworker, etc. I’m discovering my healthy boundaries around it and of course always mindful others feelings and opinions.


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