Everyone said, “Get married, have kids and you’ll be happy.” They were wrong. Here’s what actually works.

It was a typical Sunday brunch at my parents’ house in Melbourne, Australia. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the air as I listened to my brother animatedly discuss his latest entrepreneurial venture. Meanwhile, my father was grilling me about when I planned to “settle down”, marry and have kids, continuing a conversation we’ve had intermittently for the past 15 years.

You see, I’m 42 years old, and as far as societal norms go, I’ve yet to tick the boxes of marriage and children. The expectation is still there, buzzing in the background like a nagging mosquito. It’s not just my father, of course. Friends, co-workers, even complete strangers seem to have an opinion on how I should live my life. “You’ll be happy when you’re married with kids,” they claim confidently.

But here’s the thing. I don’t feel unhappy. In fact, I’m quite content with my life. I’ve built a global team spread across Singapore and Saigon, Vietnam, with remote team members all over the world. We’re creating something meaningful together, and it’s incredibly fulfilling.

I’ve watched friends get married and have children – some are blissfully happy, while others are struggling to find joy in their newfound roles. This led me to question if happiness should be about ticking boxes or if it’s about something else entirely.

As I sat there at the brunch table, sipping my coffee amidst the familial chaos, I couldn’t help but reflect on these thoughts. Do the prescribed societal norms guarantee happiness? Or is it the freedom to choose your own path that brings true contentment?

This is the tale of my journey towards understanding that happiness isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. It’s an exploration into what actually works when it comes to finding joy in life – and it’s not what everyone has been telling me.

Finding My Own Way to Happiness

As I entered my thirties, the pressure to conform to societal norms intensified. It seemed like everyone around me was pairing off, settling down, and starting families. I watched from the sidelines as my friends navigated the joys and challenges of parenthood. At the time, I was living in Los Angeles, building my career and enjoying the freedoms of a single life.

However, the constant remarks and questions about when I was planning to “settle down” began to echo in my head. I started questioning my choices. Was there something wrong with me for not wanting the same things as others? Was I missing out on some universal key to happiness?

In an attempt to fit in, I tried dating seriously with the aim of finding a life partner. Yet, despite meeting many wonderful women, none of these relationships felt right for the long term. It felt forced, like trying to squeeze into shoes that were a size too small.

Meanwhile, my career took an exciting turn. I founded Ideapod, a platform for people to share their ideas and inspire others. The venture took me across continents, from Los Angeles to Singapore and Saigon in Vietnam.

Building this global team was exhilarating. We were creating something meaningful together – a community that transcended geographical boundaries and cultural differences. It was challenging, fulfilling, and above all else, it made me happy.

Over time, I began to realize that happiness wasn’t about ticking boxes or following a prescribed path. It was about understanding myself – what drives me, what fulfills me and what brings me joy.

I found happiness not in the traditional milestones of marriage and children but in the freedom to carve my own path; in pursuing challenging work that stimulates my mind; in fostering deep connections with people from different walks of life; in finding time for physical exercise that keeps me grounded; and in moments of disconnection to foster self-awareness.

I realized that the societal notion of “happiness” wasn’t a one-size-fits-all model. Everyone is unique and what works for one person might not necessarily work for another. The key is to find what truly makes you happy, irrespective of societal norms. And for me, that meant carving my own path, building meaningful work, and embracing a lifestyle that I truly love.

The Unexpected Insight

When I first began navigating my adult life, I, like many, was under the impression that the key to happiness lay in following a set trajectory: find a partner, get married, have kids. It seemed simple enough, a well-trodden path that countless others had successfully walked before me.

However, as I embarked on this journey, I was met with a disconcerting reality. Despite following the prescribed path, I didn’t feel the contentment or fulfillment I had expected. Instead, I felt as though I was donning a costume that didn’t quite fit, living a life that wasn’t truly mine.

This was an unsettling realization. It’s disconcerting to find that the path you’re walking, the one that everyone tells you will lead to happiness, feels incongruous and uncomfortable. You begin to question your perceptions and judgments; you wonder if you’re the one who’s got it wrong.

And then came Ideapod. Building this platform and watching it grow into a global community was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The joy of creating something meaningful, of making an impact and connecting with diverse individuals from around the world was profoundly fulfilling.

Through this journey, I discovered an unexpected truth: happiness isn’t about conforming to societal norms or expectations. It’s about understanding yourself and pursuing what truly brings you joy and fulfillment.

I realized that prosperity isn’t confined to financial wealth or ticking off societal milestones. Instead, it’s a blend of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual fulfillment alongside material success. It’s about maintaining physical health for mental clarity and emotional stability. It’s about balancing ambition with gratitude and setting clear daily intentions.

Freedom became more than personal autonomy; it became a responsibility towards myself and my community. It meant fostering deep, meaningful connections while respecting others’ independence.

This journey has taught me that happiness is deeply personal and unique to each individual. It’s not about ticking boxes or conforming to societal norms. It’s about finding your own path, embracing the challenges, and celebrating the victories along the way.

The freedom to choose my own path and build a fulfilling life on my own terms has been the real key to my happiness. And while this path may not be conventional or what others expected of me, it’s the one that feels genuinely right for me.

Choosing Your Own Path

Perhaps, like me, you’ve felt the societal pressure to follow a certain path. Maybe you’ve tried to fit into the mold that others have set for you, only to find that it doesn’t quite match up with who you truly are.

Here’s what I’ve learned: it’s okay to choose your own path. In fact, it’s more than okay; it’s crucial for genuine happiness and fulfillment.

For me, the first step was acknowledging that the conventional path wasn’t right for me. It wasn’t an overnight realization, but a gradual understanding that came with time and introspection. This process of self-awareness was essential. It allowed me to identify what truly brought me joy and align my life accordingly.

Next comes embracing the freedom to carve your own path. This freedom can be exhilarating, but it can also be daunting. Navigating uncharted territory often is. However, remember that this is your journey and your life. You don’t need to seek validation from anyone else.

Along my journey, I’ve also learned the importance of maintaining a balanced lifestyle. For me, this includes ensuring time for physical exercise, fostering deep connections with people around me, and finding moments of disconnection to foster self-awareness.

Lastly, remember that it’s okay to redefine success on your terms. Prosperity isn’t just about financial wealth or societal milestones; it’s about emotional, intellectual, and spiritual fulfillment as well.

In the end, I believe that happiness isn’t about ticking boxes or conforming to societal norms. It’s about finding your own path and living life on your own terms. And while this may not be the conventional route, it’s the one that has brought me genuine joy and fulfillment.

Finding Your Happiness

Life is complex, filled with a myriad of choices and paths. We are constantly bombarded with societal expectations and norms, which can often cloud our judgment or make us question our choices. In my journey, I’ve found that the key to happiness lies not in conforming to these expectations but in carving out a path that aligns with your unique values and passions.

For me, this involved challenging conventional ideas about happiness and fulfillment. It meant stepping away from the expected path of marriage and children and instead focusing on building a global community through Ideapod. It entailed maintaining a balanced lifestyle with regular physical exercise, deep personal connections, and moments of disconnection for self-awareness.

This journey has been challenging, enlightening, and ultimately rewarding. However, it’s important to remember that each person’s path to happiness will be unique to them. What works for me may not necessarily work for you. The key is to understand yourself deeply, acknowledge your desires and values, and have the courage to pursue them.

As you navigate your own journey, I want to share a video where I reflect on whether it’s too late for me to settle down and start a family in my 40s. I believe it may provide some valuable insights for those grappling with similar questions.

YouTube video

Remember, life isn’t about ticking boxes or conforming to societal norms. It’s about finding your own path and living life on your own terms. As you navigate your journey, remember the importance of balance, self-awareness, and staying true to your values.

In the end, it’s not about what society says you should do; it’s about what brings you genuine joy and fulfillment. Because at the end of the day, your happiness is your responsibility and yours alone.

So here’s my invitation to you: Dare to question the conventional. Embrace your uniqueness. Find your own path to happiness. And remember, it’s never too late to redefine what success and happiness mean to you.

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Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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