The problem with happiness

Happiness is big business. Go into any bookshop (do people still use those?) and in the self-development section (they don’t call it self-help anymore) there are shelves of books proclaiming to have the secret to happiness. Whether it is changing what you eat, what you wear, what time you get up, these books will offer you a plethora of changes you can make which will make you happier. They may even back up some of these claims with research. Here are my problems with this:

  1. What’s so great about happiness anyway? Oh sure, it feels good, but so does a good cry. Or swearing. Or throwing something. You can only appreciate happiness if you also have sadness and other emotions.
  2. Happiness shouldn’t be a goal, it is a by-product that comes from doing other fulfilling things.
  3. What make you happy make not make the person next to you. It may be possible to come up with some universals (a basket of kittens perhaps? But even then that isn’t going to suit everyone *sneezes*), happiness is a lot more personal than that.
“It’s not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of pursuit.” — Denis Waitley

Now I’m not entirely sure who this Denis Waitley chap is, but I like the cut of his jib (I’m not entirely sure what a jib is either…). It is what we pursue which is important. And therein lies the problem. Influenced by the media, celebrities, our peers, our family, we often pursue things, lives, activities that we think we should, rather than what we really want. In the era of #fomo, and #blessed, and all that other stuff we have lost sight of what is really important to us.

Now I’m not going to tell you what those really important things are. I’m not going to tell you that it is being in the moment, travelling, doing new things, or spending time with your family, because you might not like doing any of those things. You have to uncover what is important to you, what are your core values, what are the things that drive you. It’s hard to disentangle the things we want to care about (cake, The West Wing, being with friends, being good at my job) from the things we think we should care about (sculpting my eyebrows, running a marathon, Israel and Palestine, Game of Thrones). So I will leave you with this question:

Think of a time when you felt really happy or proud of yourself; what was it about the situation that made you feel most satisfied?