We use the terms ‘happy’ and ‘happiness’ loosely in everyday life. This morning I could have said ‘a cup of coffee will make me happy’ and it wouldn’t have been a lie – it just would have been my own expression of the value that a cup of coffee would give me. At the same time, is it possible to truly be absolutely happy in the long run?
As species, we’re built to overcome, fight, develop, and grow. And life is full of misery, challenge, and troubles, which is why people get so frustrated when they don’t feel happy and content. However, is happiness truly what we need to strive for? This post is about my own experience rejecting happiness as the ultimate goal and paradoxically feeling more content as a result.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines happiness as
a state of well-being and contentment : joy
What bothers me the most is that the feeling of being content is nearly unachiavable in real life. It’s either very short-term (like the joy I get from my dose of caffeine) or impossible to get in the long run. To always strive for happiness is setting yourself for failure and frustration, which is why to me happiness isn’t the ultimate goal.
Naturally, we always want to feel good and content – it’s what our instincts require from us. Being safe, satisfied with what you have, and exprience joy. At the same time, is being safe compatible with making steps to realize your potential? If you’re reading this, think for a moment: do you feel you’re realizing your own inner potential to the full? If anyone of us truly looks deep inside ourselves, the answer will almost always be a resounding ‘no’. The truth is that everyone has talents and inner capabilities to achieve more than they currently have, but it takes courage to venture out to do it and that’s not on everyone’s agenda for a variety of reasons.
What can be the ultimate goal then, if not happiness? To me, it’s finding a meaning. Living a meaningful life is valuable and it feeds the constant need for development and improvement that I have. I am deeply convinced that all the challenges and hardships that life gives us are there for a reason. They are there to forge us, our character, push us out of the comfort zone, and grow. If plants break through the concrete, why can’t we break through difficulties? That’s right – we absolutely can and should.
I believe that people are capable of much more than they think and aiming to achieve a still state of being content isn’t what unlocks those capabilities. Finding a meaning in life and doing your best to grow the way you want to grow gives the highest enjoyment and keeps you moving forward. In my own experience, happiness was never the answer, because it meant a final destination and a state of complete satisfaction with what I had. Setting happiness as a goal in life has always seemed limiting to me, like it left no room for development.
I’ve recently stumbled upon a great speech by a well-known psychology professor and author Jordan B. Peterson about why happiness shouldn’t be the focal point in life and I found it particularly insightful when he states that
There are many circumstances in life where happiness is not only the wrong response but also where the expectation of happiness as a response will put you, the person attempting to be happy, in absolutely the wrong psychological state to be prepared for what must be done.
This absolutely resonates with me. Happiness is only one response in an ocean of responses we have and we can’t be limiting ourselves to one response only – this would mean not understanding ourselves and our own perception of the world and life. The he proceeds to saying that
Making happiness the focal point of your life trivializes your experiences because in order to regard anything as truly important you also have to regard its loss as truly meaningful, and that means that to open yourself up to the experiences of deep meaning also simultaneously open yourself up to the possibility of deep hurt and sorrow
This is absolutely true. For something to be valuable, it has to be finite and there has to be the risk of losing it. Living a hurt-free life is impossible equally as it is impossible to live a completely happy life, which means that there’s no need or purpose in enslaving yourself to the idea of happiness. My vote is for meaning and purpose over happiness, always.
If you found this post interesting in any way, I’d also suggest another lecture by J.B. Peterson about the perception of suffering – it truly goes hand in hand with the theme of happiness.
See you in my next post,
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