As a species, humans are pretty dissatisfied with ourselves, and nowhere is this more true than in America. Each year, 45 percent of us make New Year’s resolutions. We spend some $549 million on self-help books, according to research by Marketdata Enterprises.
Millions chase the ideologies of the Laws of Attraction, or The Secret.
Yoga. Faith and/or spirituality. Exercise. Clean eating. Affirmations. Self-improvement. Detoxification. Purification. Wealth coaching. Antidepressants. Renewing identity. Personal-development planning. Vitamin D. Life coaching.
Trying to find happiness is exhausting. It’s no wonder so many feel like they’ve tried everything and happiness still escapes them.
But what if it doesn’t have to be that complicated?
What if finding happiness is actually super simple?
That’s crazy, Larry.
I know, I hear you. But hear me out.
I read a great article this week that’s had me thinking. It was a Quartz piece by Olivia Goldhill, and it grabbed my attention as it made its way around Twitter.
In “Neuroscience confirms that to be truly happy, you will always need something more,” Goldhill explores the complex human relationship between seeking fulfillment and actually feeling fulfilled. She points to research by neuroscientist and author Jaak Panskepp as proof that the key to happiness might actually be never feeling completely fulfilled.
Like other mammals, humans have core instincts and the most important of those is the need to seek.
Maybe all that self-improvement we’re trying to do isn’t because there’s anything wrong with us, but because we just know there’s more for us to do and be. “Whether we’re striving for a new job, more meaningful relationships, or personal enlightenment, we need to actively want something more in order to live well,” Goldhill writes.
Often, that “something more” is something we’re seeking on an emotional level, say psychologists. Our primary driving force as humans is to ensure our needs are met, with physical needs being the most critical. We need food, water, and shelter to survive.
But once those needs are met, we start trying to fulfill our emotional needs. One of the most powerful is the need for approval, which is instilled in people from early childhood. We seek the approval of parents, teachers, community leaders, and elders. Later, we seek the approval of a potential spouse, a boss, our friends and neighbors.
In a way, a lot of the chasing we do as adults — chasing a dollar, chasing the American dream, chasing an elusive lifestyle — is really driven by our need for the approval of our peers.
The real key to happiness is in realizing that attaining any or all of those things we think we really, really want will never actually make us happy.
And that’s OK.
That’s how we’re wired, after all. Like those rats in Panskepp’s research who don’t like being electrocuted but keep seeking out new information and getting shocked as a result, we have a powerful and ingrained need to seek.
“Our drive to look ahead needn’t cause a permanent state of dissatisfaction, as seeking is itself a fulfilling activity,” Goldhill writes.
There you have it — the key to happiness lies in your enjoyment of the journey as you seek. You really can’t have it all, and if you think you do, you’re denying yourself that happiness-inducing state of constantly seeking.
So learn a new language or skill. Strive to build your intelligence and exercise your brain. Explore new countries and regions; make it a goal to learn more about the world around you. Challenge yourself!
Enjoy the pursuit to happiness, as it just might be your greatest source of happiness after all.
Originally published in Inc.com
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