French Feminine Secret:
Stop Chasing Happiness

FRENCH SECRET_Stop Chasing Happiness

“If only we’d stop trying to be happy we
could have a pretty good time.”
~Edith Wharton

Cheer Up!
Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
Put on a Happy Face!
Smile, dammit!
Dust yourself off and put a smile on that face of yours!

Just reading this exhausts me.  And, it certainly doesn’t create a sense of joie de vivire.

Yet, these are the cultural messages that we grow up with from a very young age.  And, this form of faux happiness is what I chased for many, many years!

Our society encourages the pursuit of happiness.  In fact, the phrase is written into our Declaration of Independence. Americans spend billions of dollars each year trying to reach eternal bliss.

Yet, are we any happier?

What if we stopped chasing happiness and accepted that moods, gloom and not so stellar days were not something to avoid but to allow?

What if we learned to feel our emotions and discover the nuggets of wisdom they offer?

What if we didn’t make a negative emotion, such as fear, sadness or melancholy, mean any more than we are a human being having an emotion?

What if we learned to actually feel our emotions instead of resist or react to them?

The French show that we would probably eat less, buy less and worry less.

In working with thousands of women, I’ve discovered that learning to process emotions, dig deeper into them and excavate their nuggets of wisdom is the key to a successful life.

Feeling and understanding our emotions is the secret sauce to abundance, creativity and all of our desires.

Before visiting France, I bought into the belief that if I wasn’t happy, something was terribly wrong with me or the world.

Any feeling other than mind blowing exuberance was unacceptable.  As a result, I chased down happiness like a dog hunts down the scent of deer, sniffing it out in men, money, careers, the perfect body.  However, chasing happiness is like the dog trying to chase a deer;  it will run from you!

When you’re so busy chasing happiness, you’re often abandoning yourself.

Let me give you an example:  for years, I’d jump on a plane at least once a month to go somewhere, anywhere other than where I was.  I wanted to feel happy.

However, there was a flaw in my approach.  As the saying goes,

“Wherever you go, there you are.”

Even in New York City or a lavender field in Provence, I was still with me.  Yes, I could distract myself for brief moments of time, but the nagging underlying issues could only be addressed when I stopped chasing happiness.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love the feeling of being joyful, and it’s a feeling I can create. But, it felt impossible when I was obsessed with chasing happiness.  I have created it by allowing whatever emotion that’s present come at sit at my table and teach me about myself.

By sitting with my emotions, I’ve discovered:

  • beliefs that are holding me back
  • patterns that keep showing up
  • how to feel an emotion (without reacting to it)
  • how to navigate my life towards deep fulfillment.

Yes, there are days when I don’t wake up feeling like I’m on top of the world.  And, I now realize that this is okay.  It’s not just okay; it’s normal and a part of life – the ebb and flow of emotions.

Yet, I still get dressed and put on my lipstick.  I still go for my workout.  I run errands and cook.  I still show up for my clients as a professional.  And, I still feel extreme gratitude for the experience of this wonderful thing called life.

With this attitude, the undue pressure to be a Pollyanna dissipates, and allows me to be, well…human!

Turns out that this perspective is very French.

Last year, while in Paris, I was sharing a glass of wine with a French friend of mine and told her my observation that French women seemed to be very melancholic, which often translates into a sexy, sultry pout and that je ne sais quoi that we often associate with them.

She explained that French women don’t have the pressure to be nice, pretty and happy all the time. For this reason, they can show up and be who they are in the moment, and they don’t really seem to care if you like it or not, adding even more intrigue to their already mysterious essence.

Another Parisian friend of mine told me about her first trip to the U.S.  “It was hard work trying to be cheerful all the time.  Everyone was always smiling at me, and I felt that I couldn’t keep us with the perpetual state of ecstasy.  I was miserable trying to be happy all the time.”

Let me be clear:  the French are not a miserable culture.  The term joie de vivre is French, after all.   However, contrary to the American take on the term, it does not mean 24 – 7 blissed out happy faces.

If you want more inspiration from the French lifestyle, I wrote an eBook with 15 nuggets of wisdom that have deeply elevated the quality of my life.  You can grab your copy here. 


Joie de vivre simply means an overall enjoyment of life and all that it has to offer – including heartbreaks, disappointments and failures.  Véronique Vienne, author of The Art of Being a Woman: A Simple Guide to Everyday Love and Laughter, describes joie de vivre as “a form of bliss triggered by the world at large, not by an internal reality.  Unlike happiness, which can be described as an inner state of contentment, joie de vivre is not self-involved.  You derive this kind of joy from acknowledging greatness outside yourself – in nature, in things, in others.”

In other words, joie de vivre requires that you take the focus off of you and begin focusing on all that’s around you, even when you’re feeling less than stellar.

I’ve trained myself to allow emotions to flow through me, not spiral me into a toxic, self-sabotaging pattern, by understanding 2 things:

1.  It’s normal to have a negative emotion (it only means the meaning you place upon it).

2.  When you stop resisting or reacting to your emotions, they are simply feelings in your body.  

With this understanding, I’ve also trained myself not be a drama queen when I’m having a bad day. (I’ll admit that I’m not perfect at this one yet, and that’s okay too.)

When I’m having a bad day, I still show up in my life — get dressed, run errands, show up for my clients, watch a movie.  In other words, I don’t stop the world to try and fix myself.

I’m not broken (and neither are you, m’friend).  We’re just normal people having normal emotions.

The reason so many people struggle with negative emotion is that they fight, resist and avoid them.  This is what leads to problems — overeating, shopping sprees, excessive drinking, etc.

What if you simply trained yourself to feel your emotions, understand them and still show up in your life?

You’d be a woman who lives with true joie de vivre.

You can still look outside of yourself and see the beauty in life, with tears or a smile.

You can also look within and become a beautiful friend to yourself by understanding what is causing every emotion that you experience, which will always be what’s going on in your own mind.  Don’t judge it; be fascinated by it.

So, go sit at a coffee shop and cry if you need to.  Then, pick up a book, the paper, anything that reminds you that there is a life outside of your internal reality.  Or, grab and pen and journal and get to know your internal landscape.

The point is this:

You can still live with joie de vivre without a happy face!

That, my love, is tres French!

Here’s the paradox in all of this:  My life has become much richer, abundant and charming when I stopped chasing happiness.

Yes, I’m happier than ever.  And, it’s okay when I’m not too!

Are you tired of the constant pressure to be happy?  Let’s discuss in the comments below.

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18 Responses to French Feminine Secret:
Stop Chasing Happiness

  1. Thank you Tonya, this is beautiful.
    I have finally opened myself up to experiencing the ebbs and flows of life and experiencing the pleasure in all of it. I was in the state of mind for so long (too long) that in order to live a great life, I had to stuff down, put aside and ignore all the ‘bad’ things I was feeling.
    It feels so amazing to be more accepting and open to everything that comes my way and really feel whatever emotions that come up around life!

  2. Hi Tonya
    I enjoyed reading your blog post today, great observations. I have to say I don’t believe I chase happiness, and I’m not sure if you can catch it. I love being me at each given moment in time.

    At certain times that mean crying, laughing and being sad in the same breathe; and at other times it means crying all day, or being angry or happy. If an emotion or emotions comes to me, I try to feel that emotion(s) and move through it, releasing whatever needs to be transformed.

    I believe we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be who others want us to be, instead of truly being our authentic self. From my own experience, it took a while for me to get comfortable being my authentic self. But in this present moment, I love being me and wouldn’t change it for anything!

    bonne journée!


  3. OH WOW, Tonya! This came at the most perfect time. I just listened to your recording on productivity and then I was listening to Mama Gena and Christiane Northrup on HayHouse yesterday – and Northrup talked about crying and how it releases toxins and moves our energy around and releases blockage. i realized that i haven’t let my emotions come out – maybe at times, but not really out…i started journaling and i began to cry – i still have a ways to go – but i know it helped me. i do feel a little more lighter today. OH – and on your call – what stood out the most was when you said, i’m tired of how to books and 10 ways to become more happy – well, something like that it and i was like YES!!! b/c i’ve been reading that stuff for years now and i’m sick of it, too!!! and i also realized that eat way more food and sugar b/c i haven’t released my inner emotions – i haven’t really cried!!! so this was beautiful….thank you so much for what you do…it’s helped me so much! 🙂 and it’s funny – my grandparents are 100% french – so i have french in me as my dad is 100% french – and i have tried to stay happy – put on that happy face 24/7 like you said…and when i read what you wrote – my first thought was the french in me is trying to come out and tell me that it’s ok to not be smiling 24/7. very cool!! 🙂

  4. Maybe the reason we try to put on the happy face is we don’t slow down often enough to figure out how we’re feeling. My default is to put on the happy face mask and power through the day. Hmmm. Interesting things to ponder.

    • Hi Stacey,

      Your comment reminded me of all the times my daughter has said, “Mom, stop faking that your happy.” Kids know!

  5. Aaaah. Yes. These words are such medicine. I’m not French, I’m Finnish, but I think many European women can relate to this living in US… People often think I’m upset at them, or arrogant, when I walk through town, or a grocery store, during my “not so cheerful days” and don’t feel like smiling, or even saying hello all the time. In Europe I feel there is less difference between the “public” self and “personal” self… But there are times, when I visit my home country, and I do find myself wishing to see some of that cheer on people’s faces, whether it’s authentic or not…. Such blessing to be able to live in an other country and have the best from both worlds! Thanks for this honest, refreshing post. Love your site and your beauty.

  6. I love this blog post. There is often so much pressure on being happy that sometimes just being okay isn’t good enough. I am guilty of putting on a happy face while I am crying on the inside. I find that by doing so my unhappiness lasts longer.

    I love the thought of showing up in the moment, as you are, without having to “fake” happiness to satisfy others. I will try to do this from now on and let you know how it goes. Thanks, Tonya!

  7. I am so happy to know that you understand that it is OK to cry and I know Aunt Dottie will be happy to know that she is normal as she can laugh and cry at the same time. Now that takes talent!!!!!!!

  8. Not faking it is also about admitting and acknowledging what you need…and want…which I finally grasped earlier this spring through your mentorship.

    Last Friday – I had a horrible headache – and was very tense from a long week. I had an awesome event that night that I had been looking forward to for months and I wanted to be fully present.

    So, last minute – I scheduled a 30 minute massage, about an hour before the event – to get rid of the tension and re-center myself.

    Admitting that it was NOT all OK and I was NOT feeling OK – and putting myself first to fix it so that I could soak the pleasure out of the event I had been waiting for – was so good.

    I had a wonderful time and the $$ and time I spent taking care of the stuff that wasn’t OK – was so worth it.

  9. Tonya, such a good blog entry.!!
    Of course it is normal to not be blissful all the time. We are supposed to have a wide range of emotions.. I think Americans are too quick to medicate and label with the term depression when it is normal sadness. I know some people need medication but we shouldn’t medicate when we have a reason to be sad..My mother used to say I just have the blues today.. I grew up thinking that a “blue” day was normal.

  10. Thank you for this wonderful article! I also loved the one before this about being a lady of leisure! These are great reminders about living in the present, taking care of ourselves and learning to find inner peace within our lives. Once we can do those things … well, that is where happiness is really found!

    I am the wife of a recovering sex addict and I help women whose lives have been turned upside down from their partner’s compulsive sexual behavior … it’s really traumatic and many women just have a really tough time dealing with the whole situation. It’s hard to process our emotions and you get bombard with how you should feel, what you should feel and how you need to behave.

    Well, what I LOVE about your article is that this is EXACTLY what I try to teach the women going through this. Instead of running away from your feelings and swirling in the toilet bowl of being betrayed …. it is SO important to truly feel your emotions. Let them in, learn to feel the craziness of it, allow yourself to have bad days … and as you know, once you stop running away from the feelings, let those feelings in, lovingly accept them as a part of who you are, not be afraid of feeling those crazy emotions … well then, you learn to be at peace with WHO you are.

    And as you so WONDERFULLY stated …. that is where you find happiness. Once you get it, it’s a wonderful place to be, EMPOWERING actually! Thank you for this …. it brought a smile to my face today!

    I blog about my journey through the recovery of my hubby’s sex addiction and the life lessons that I have learned along the way ….

  11. Tonya, I’ve just discovered your blog and am loving exploring it. So many interesting thoughts and stories and so much to inspire me. I just love what you wrote…

    ‘So, go sit at a coffee shop and cry if you need to. Then, pick up a book, the paper, anything that reminds you that there is a life outside of your internal reality. You can still live with joie de vivre without a happy face!’

    Words to live by.

    It reminded me of when I lived in Montpellier, France and one day I was just really angry for no apparent reason. My French friend asked, ‘when was the last time you cried?’ and was surprised when I couldn’t remember, that it was some months ago perhaps. She told me she had a good cry at least once a week and felt it was a necessary part of her life.

    Now I cherish the moments when I cry because it makes me feel more alive and able to experience a greater depth of feeling. It helps me to see the world with new eyes.

    Thank you again for your wisdom xx

    • This is so important. I spent probably all of my teen years pretty depressed and trying to pretend like I wasn’t. But I clearly couldn’t hide my unhappiness because people/strangers on the street would say to me daily “Smile! It’s not so bad.” And I would always think “how do you know?” “I’m supposed to smile to make you feel better about my feelings?” “Why don’t you ask me why I’m unhappy?” A forced disingenuous smile – what value does that have?
      I think I would have had an easier time and those feelings would have passed more quickly if I’d gotten the message it was ok to feel that way and it will pass vs adding “There’s something wrong with me. I shouldn’t be feeling this way” on top of the already bad feelings.
      I’ll take authenticity over perpetually cheerful any day.

  12. That is so refreshing! I know that I create my own reality which is why I became so damn afraid of feeling negative emotion. I realize now that negative emotion is not bad itself. I am on a real journey for sure and I am learning about the beauty of the whole journey.
    I was just dumped on the weekend, and my heart feels broken, however I have decided to feel it. Sometimes I have and sometimes I have masked it, or tried to. The point is, that I am learning to navigate and allow little by little myself to make peace with it. I feel tremendous pain right now but deep deep down know that everything will be ok. Without just putting on a happy face.
    Love to all


  13. Hi Tonya

    This is perfect for me today! I has actually taken the day off the to fix myself! Skipped the gym . Thank you for allowing us to be ourselves!

  14. This is exactly the message I needed to hear. I’ve been running around taking classes, spending money, eating at expensive restaurants and consuming foods I know my body and mind dislike all in an attempt to avoid the sunken, defeated feeling of unwanted change in my life that is ultimately better for me in the end anyway.

    Looks like it’s time to find a comfy pair of pajamas, a box of tissue and a pen, then let it out.

    Thank you for the gentle reminder that living life to the fullest is more about experiencing the full 360 degrees of experiences than just being happy.

    Many thanks for what you do!

  15. I love this post so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is exactly what changed. I was that way and then I changed thinking it was going to help the moments I felt down and instead it got worse! I am saving this blog post! Tonya you are the best! I am so grateful for your emails.

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