“The pursuit of happiness” is often referenced when discussing the “American Dream” or envisioning a fulfilling life. But what if I told you that the pursuit of happiness is not something we should be striving for? In fact, the pursuit of happiness tends to lead us to feel unhappy or dissatisfied.
To pursue means to chase or follow something—meaning we don’t have it in our possession.
Collectively, we have a skewed view of happiness and how to obtain it. Especially in Western culture, we often seek happiness and fulfillment outside of ourselves instead of generating pleasant feelings from within.
In my opinion, this way of thinking (that happiness and fulfillment rest is something we must obtain) is an archetype powered by corporations to encourage us to spend more money on things we don’t need or intrinsically want but are made to feel like we want or need to “be happy.”
I, too, fell prey to the popular belief that once I had ____, I would be happy. I can assure you that whatever that thing is for you, the happiness it brings will be short-lived. Eventually, we will need something else to provide a follow-up dose of happiness hormones like dopamine and serotonin. That is what we are unknowingly chasing, the feeling.
Developing awareness around this pattern of pursuing happiness is essential: The high that comes from obtaining or experiencing something new; the low we feel once the newness wears off; and the dissatisfaction that drives us to pursue the next thing we believe will make us happy.
How to generate happiness from within:
Take a moment and think of something that makes you happy, either something you have or want. Visualize it as if you have it in the here and now. Maybe you envision yourself sitting on a beach somewhere, or you are in a new position making good money or feeling good about what you do. How does that make you feel just thinking about it? Happy? Content? Joyful?
The fact that we can generate feelings by thinking about something should prove that happiness (and any emotion, for that matter) is not caused by our circumstances but by the perception of our circumstances or a fabricated thought.
An easy and surefire way to experience the feeling of happiness and joy on demand is to express gratitude. By focusing your attention on as little as one thing you genuinely appreciate, you can generate a feeling of utmost satisfaction and joy.
The importance of duality:
While generating happiness from within is ideal because it can be instantaneous and does not require time, money, or resources, it too is only temporary.
Regardless of the commonly held belief that once we reach a certain ‘place’ in our lives (financially, spiritually, mentally, etc.), we can avoid discomfort, unhappiness, and unpleasant feelings, that isn’t the case.
Even if we were in perfect health, set for life financially, and checked all the boxes on our wish list, we would not be able to sustain happiness permanently. Why? Because we humans quickly grow bored, restless and tend to take for granted what we have, no matter how amazing it is.
Ironically, some of life’s most satisfied and content individuals have experienced significant hardships and, in many cases, lack the luxuries we believe lead to happiness.
How can this be?
In short, a combination of duality and a deep appreciation and connection to self and (or) a higher power.
In this context, duality represents two contrasting realities. Like, sickness and health, with and without, etc.
When we combine connection to self or higher power with hardship, we sincerely appreciate what we have and a bounty of valuable life lessons.
However, experiencing hardship without these other elements may make one feel unlucky, envious of others, or bitter toward life.
The unfortunate truth is that most of us lack a genuine connection to self or higher power because we have been raised to look outward most of our lives for almost everything: self-wroth, satisfaction, validation, happiness, acceptance, etc. That said, we tend to rely on our ego to guide us, which encourages us to run from contrast because we view discomfort as a bad thing and something that should be avoided at all costs. Social scripts reinforce this egoic behavior as they mirror the collective mind.
Emotional intelligence helps us to deconstruct mindsets and indoctrinations that do not serve us and teaches us to embrace contrast in our life instead of running from it. To some, it may sound like I am encouraging you to seek to be miserable. Not at all. I encourage you to accept what life brings, which isn’t the same as intentionally seeking chaos.
Approach contrast with grace, courage, and humility; I can assure you it will make life much richer once you overcome it. Instead of pursuing happiness, what if we sought to learn, overcome, and relish in the moments when the clouds clear.
As humans, we do not thrive from complacency; we thrive from finding purpose in our day-to-day efforts.