Oct 17, 2014

Happiness is in the Pursuit of Happiness

“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand
as in what direction we are moving.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I always thought happiness was a destination, that once reached life would be immediately better. That perhaps after reaching a goal ______[weight, making a certain amount of money, finishing school, buying that new tech piece, clothing item, vacation] that would be it, I would have finally achieved happiness, life would be perfect and smooth sailing. How I ever came to that conclusion, I don't know. No one has ever explicitly explained it to me.

In the past, during those pursuits of said goals ______ [weight, getting a job, finishing school, buying that  new tech piece, clothing item, vacation] I focused SOLELY on just reaching that destination at whatever mental, physical, spiritual cost that came along. Once I achieved that goal, guess what? I felt EXACTLY the same as I did as before.  The only thing I really felt was surprised, unfulfilled, and all I could think of to myself was "is that it? thats what I worked for? And I don't feel any different.. any happier?"

What happiness is not: 
  • It isn't about the acquisition of material possessions or monetary wealth (as media and businesses would have you believe).

    One pervasive example of the effect of money on happiness - lottery winners have an elevated level of happiness that lasts about two weeks before that level goes back to what it was before they ever won the money. Although that amount of money makes life considerably easier in terms of living expenses, they are still the same people, with the issues and self-limiting beliefs.

    I know that when I indulge on a "want" after a rather expensive shopping trip, I do get a superficial, temporary feeling of happiness that lists up until the novelty of having it wears off. Then I'm back to baseline, and perhaps wondering what I need to acquire next to feel better (what gadget? what brand name clothing).

  • Happiness is not the pursuit of "pleasure" - Pleasurable activities are not necessarily productive activities that help us improve or be better people. They usually compromise of things that make us feel "good" in the moment, which can be things as innocent as getting a day at the spa, watching a funny movie, or more self-destructive behaviours that involve overindulging on food, drugs, promiscuity, gambling. Happiness in this case is extrinsic and dependent on the next time you can obtain or experience said 'pleasure'. Often these 'pleasures' are also not true sources of happiness, but rather quick fixes and means of distracting us from problems we work so hard to avoid and face (feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, hopelessness and despair).
  • Happiness is not keeping up with the Joneses. Comparing ourselves to our neighbours, peers, friends, prominent figures in the media. It's easy for anyone to hide their struggles, and often we only see those perfect Instagram photos, or experiences on our newsfeed about amazing travels and experiences that others have had. 

What happiness is:

  • The pursuit of different goals and activities that are aligned with our ideal selves and values. If we think about whats important to us - family, generosity, charity, compassion, justice, creative expression, faith, adventurousness, self care (emotional, physical/fitness, spirituality), temperance, and strength and the moments in our lives when felt those values expressed - its often in the context of a creative pursuits (dance, art, music, classes, writing, photography, etc.), a difficult challenge we had to endure, a shared experience with a loved one.

    Activities that reinforce these values are activities that help us self-actualize - to live out our values, and improve upon and challenge ourselves.

    For me personally, I work in the medical field. I help people and that fulfills me in many ways: it helps me build compassion, cultivate patience, and also helps me build generosity with my time, energy and attention I give to the people I try to help. However, I have found that there isn't much room for creativity and freedom of expression - understandably as I'm about helping others, not myself in that position.

    Something I've found immensely cathartic is pursuit of creative endeavors - more recently dance, art, graphic/web design, baking, photography. Anything where I'm curating and creating I feel challenged, joy, proud, and that I'm growing in many different areas - even if I'm not particularly good or get frustrated at the pace at which I'm progressing (I'm a beginner for the majority, if not all of those creative endeavors).
  • Indulging in experiences and building meaningful relationships, not the acquisition of things: The moments that have had me consistently happy are experiences and heart to heart conversations I've had with good friends, and the memories from those experiences sustain me when times do get tough. 

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