If you want true inner peace, say goodbye to these 8 expectations from society

When it comes to cultivating inner peace, actor Kerry Washington (Scandal, Little Fires Everywhere) has embraced putting her own needs first. 

“If I don’t put my own physical and emotional health first, then I’m not really useful to any movement, to any work of art, to any creative endeavor,” she has said in the past. 

“I have to be aware—not selfish and self-absorbed and self-obsessed—but I have to be self-aware of what my needs are and be willing to take care of my own needs.”

In writing her memoir, Thicker Than Water—releasing September 26—Washington sought to answer the following questions:

Who am I? 

What is my truest and most authentic self? 

How do I find a deeper sense of connection and belonging?

Part of the path to living a more peaceful life involves letting go of what the world thinks is right for us. 

But which societal expectations should we eschew in particular?

Here are eight expectations that we find the most exasperating. 

1) The notion that you need a lot of friends to be happy

Social media would suggest that we need a steady supply of friends to feel content in life. 

The pressure to conform to this particular social norm can make many people believe that if they don’t have a group of friends to fall back on, it’s a sign of failure.   

Popular culture, social media, and societal expectations perpetuate the falsehood that friendships are a prerequisite for happiness, according to Friendshipsy.

The truth is that happiness is a state of mind that isn’t exclusively dependent on social connections. 

“Some individuals prefer solitude and find comfort in their own company. Happiness comes from within, and one can cultivate it by embracing their unique preferences and values.”

Research has found that some people find personal happiness through things like hobbies, personal growth, and spirituality rather than just through social support avenues. 

2) The idea that if you aren’t active on social media, you must be anti-social

It seems like every person on the planet has some sort of presence on social media. 

If we’re looking up someone—whether it’s a new colleague at work or a potential love interest—and we don’t find a profile on Facebook or Instagram, we might automatically assume that they’re something of a loner or even somewhat strange. 

The societal expectation might be that everyone should have an online platform but studies have shown that people who spend a lot of time on social media are at least two times more likely to feel socially isolated, says Baylor Scott from BSWHealth

“Social media use displaces more authentic experiences because the more time a person spends online, the less time there is for real-world interactions.” 

After all, there was a time when the world wasn’t on social media because it didn’t exist. The simple reality is that while social media certainly does have a host of benefits, it isn’t for everyone. 

3) The perception that you have to play into hustle culture 

Hustle culture is so ingrained in us—especially in North America—that we see it as an essential strategy to achieving success. 

As a freelance journalist, I often hear about the necessity of pitching, pitching, and more pitching story ideas to editors to increase the chances of getting published—and making an income. 

And I did do this—especially at the beginning of my journalism career. 

Sure, I sold a story here and there, but the cost was burnout and a loss of interest in what I was pitching—not to mention churning out a barrage of mediocre ideas just so that I could meet my self-imposed pitch quota for the week. 

Now, I pitch far less than I used to and only go after stories that I’m passionate about and inspired by. 

The result? 

More well-thought out and articulated pitches coupled with an enthusiasm that the editor picks up on. 

Taking the time to do it my way—instead of the way society expects me to—has led to less stress, more ease—and more stories that I’m proud to have as part of my portfolio. 

4) The misassumption that you have to be happy all the time 

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The way the world sees it, if we’re not happy all the time, there must be something wrong with us. 

Happiness is not an achievement, says Menachem Brodie from Everyday Power

“Nor is it part of some magical destination,” she says. “Happiness is part of our journey in life…Throughout our lives, we will have good times and bad times. Times of joy and times of pain. Such is the way of life.”

Pain is part and parcel of an authentic life

Really, being happy all the time is not a good thing. That’s because staying in one state all the time can actually throw us off balance. 

“We need to have a little turbulence here and there in order to allow us to relish and make the most of the good times,” says Brodie. 

She emphasizes that this doesn’t mean that being miserable or unhappy is good for us. 

But what it does mean is that even though life can throw us off track now and then—with what might look like “bad” things happening to us—“we must be able to return to a positive disposition quickly and more powerfully. 

It’s the more “negative” emotions that—when used properly—actually allow us to strengthen our positive outlook on life, adds Brodie. 

“It’s a matter of how we interpret the meaning of events that occur in our lives, as well as the attitudes we carry everyday.”

That’s what we should be seeking for, emphasizes Brodie. 

“Not happiness itself, but the ability to give a positive meaning to events in our lives and how we will use the energy created by said events.”

5) You have to be in a romantic relationship to be happy 

Society likes to pile this one on pretty thick. 

No, you don’t have to be coupled up to be content. 

Certainly, love and connection are wonderful things that can add to our already fulfilling lives—but that’s the point—they have to be able to add to it. 

“We will be happier having high-quality relationships in our life, but if you are single and not in a relationship, your life can be full, happy, and joyful by having other, connected relationships in your corner,” says Nia Cherie from BetterHumans

“Why do we need to tell people they need to be in romantic relationships to be happy?” she questions. 

“I thought maybe people were on to something…or maybe they were just following inherent cultural norms that have existed for centuries to find love through romance.”

The point is if you feel satisfied with your single life and have no intention of entering into a romantic relationship, then that is your prerogative. End of story. 

6) You have to go to university to get a good job 

We’ve all heard about how computer wizards Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both dropped out of college to pursue their tech dreams—and still succeeded astronomically. 

Take it from the horse’s mouth: 

“Many organizations today have stopped  requiring college degrees as a prerequisite for job reviews,” says Soren Kaplan, who writes for Harvard Business Review.

“Forward-thinking companies realize that by expanding the hiring process to a broader pool of candidates, they’ll get better talent.”

A degree doesn’t guarantee a job. Enthusiasm and eagerness to learn from experience can be the better route. 

7) You can’t turn your passion into a career

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Sure, I could name people like Oprah Winfrey and the like but I have a more tangible example that I think would work better. 

I know a lady named Meagan Morrison who has two main passions in life: painting and traveling. 

Morrison, who grew up in a small town north of Toronto, moved to New York City in her early twenties and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology. 

This got her on track to turn both of these loves into a career as an illustrator who travels the world. 

Morrison has been commissioned by brands like Calvin Klein, Condé Nast Traveler, Dior, DVF, Emirates, E!, Harper’s Bazaar, IMG, Louis Vuitton, Montblanc, The Met, Vanity Fair, W Magazine, and The Ritz-Carlton—to name but a few! 

Her Instagram—@travelwritedraw—also boasts 174,000 followers. 

Morrison never stopped to think what society might say about such an unconventional career choice and neither should you. 

8) You have to accomplish specific milestones by a certain age 

Feeling the pressure to reach a number of milestones in life, such as having children or settling down is common, says clinical psychologist Liz White

According to research, this so-called milestone anxiety is experienced more by millennials and Gen Z compared to other generations, White adds. 

“Not having reached a particular life milestone does not mean you are failing in life or lagging behind everyone else,” she says. 

We all have different timelines, talents, and pursuits. There’s no point in comparing our lives to someone else’s just because they hit certain milestones. Because at the end of the day, would you even want their life? I mean, really? This would include all of the things you don’t even know about. 

Most likely not. So stop comparing, make up your own milestone, and you do you.

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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