The Pursuit of Happiness as a Cause of Unhappiness

Buse Çaylak
Jul 14, 2018 · 5 min read
“A man floating in sudsy water in Việt Nam” by Hisu lee on Unsplash

The moment people feel best about themselves is usually when they are happy. To perpetuate wellbeing, almost every individual has an impulse to chase happiness. This quest is a natural consequence of the desire to feel good.

Because of happiness is not a permanent feeling, we begin to pursue it again and again.

The pursuit of happiness and the way individuals pursue it depends on which country they live in. Every country has its own beliefs and life styles, so that individuals thoughts and life goals are generally shaped by the culture they belong to. It is obvious that every country has its own unique characteristics, but usually they have one thing in common: being happy as a life goal.

What’s with the happiness talk?

There are many answers given about what happiness is, but it still remains unclear that if it is a plausible idea trying to achieve happiness for individuals whole lifetime. According to the majority, it is not that important if it makes sense or not, society wants to be happy. Kant follows this idea by saying:

“The notion of happiness is so nebulous that although every man wishes to attain it, yet he can never convey accurately and distinctly what it is that he really wishes and wills.”

His point is that the subject of happiness and subjective well-being is so overrated that individuals can not even decide what they truly want. All this “happiness talk” and the discussions about how to enhance subjective well-being distracts individuals from their social lives.

All this efforts do not bring happiness, yet it causes misery. The misery comes from the endless pursue, the goal to achieve happiness. The inability to achieve their goals drags individuals to sadness. The failing effort to be happy causes destruction, which means all the trials are backfired.

Perhaps it is time to think about how logical is it by chasing happiness for a lifetime instead of finding solutions to real problems.

What is your purpose of life?

The pursuit of happiness has become the most important life goal for individuals in almost every culture, especially in the Western cultures. Since feeling happy has turned out to be the most important aim in individuals lives, various studies and ideas came out for this purpose. In Why happiness is overrated, Stuart Jeffries points out that achieving happiness is taken as a serious and worthwhile subject by noting that “…where privileged students were given lessons in positive psychology and the science of wellbeing.” Giving lessons to teach how to be happy and the attempt to give children “cognitive behavioural therapy courses” shows that the pursuit of happiness is taken as a serious issue.

The question is that; is the impulse to be happy a heartfelt feeling or do individuals try to achieve happiness because the community forces them to be -or appear at least- happy?

Impact of the society

When individuals see others’ happiness, they envy it and want to feel the way society feels. Perhaps the exertion to seem happy is because of trying to be a part of the community. Therefore it can be said that this endless pursuit of happiness is based on a community pressure.

Now it is all across the world

Despite it is pointed out before, that the quest to achieve happiness could not accomplish its aim, it is still a worldwide mentality. The pursuit of happiness as a concept came up from Western cultures. However, due to cultural globalisation, it started to become a universal concept. Joshanloo and Weijers explain this situation in Aversion to happiness across cultures: A review of where and why people are averse to happiness. “That is, with globalisation and democratisation, people around the world are becoming increasingly obsessed with their personal happiness-their subjective well-being.”

Therefore, it started to affect all of the cultures across the world. The negative effect across cultures caused various aversions to happiness, mostly in Eastern and Western cultures. There are various reasons why people became averse to happiness. Most of the reasons are based on religious beliefs. For example, it is cited by Joshanloo:

“In Taoism, it is posited that things tend to revert their opposite.” This belief made individuals think that once they are happy, they are going to be sad afterwards, or their happiness tends to cause misery ultimately.

Taoism was born in East Asia and this belief affects most of the Eastern cultures. In that case, it can be concluded that the pursuit of happiness as a concept does not only affect Western cultures. Continuously, Joshanloo states that “…East Asians tend to feel a certain pressure to belong (i.e., to bring about and experience social harmony), and thus their life is more firmly guided by the need to have good interpersonal relationships, than to be happy. When the supreme goal of a culture is social harmony, personal happiness can even be perceived as detrimental to social relationships.”

The behaviours that stated above are the results of the failure of the pursuit of happiness. The contrast in cultural goals bring doubtfulness and inconvenience with it. It is clear that the pursuit of happiness as a concept brought unhappiness not only in Western cultures, but also rest of the world.

The ultimate failure

From all the consequences that stated above it can be summarised that the researches around the world about the pursuit of happiness indicate that it has failed. Contrary to the exaggeration of happiness comes from a desire to feel good, it dragged individuals to despondency. The reason of this despondency is the instability of happiness. Instability here means that happiness is not an emotion that is stable once it is achieved. So, trying to achieve something unattainable leads individuals to boredom after a point.

To conclude, it can be said that instead of aiming to be happy as a life goal, happiness should be used as a tool for positive psychology and enhance subjective well-being. Therefore there will not be a time waste running after for nothing and individuals can have a chance to concern about their real life problems.


Jeffries, S. (2006, July 11) Why happiness is overrated; The pursuit of contentment is hopelessly self-defeating. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Joshanloo, M & Weijers, D. (2014) Aversion to Happiness Across Cultures: A Review of Where and Why People are Averse to Happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, Volume 15, Issue 3, 717–735. Retrieved from

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Buse Çaylak

Written by

bachelor of law, interested in psychology, art, philosophy, social media and… cats.

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