Why We’re Going About Happiness All Wrong

People have long debated the question of what is happiness? We often use the term “happiness” as a catch-all to describe a range of emotions from excitement to contentment and every positive feeling in between.

Over the last several years, scientists and researchers have done solid work to help us understand what happiness is and how we can cultivate it in our lives. As it turns out, happiness has nothing to do with how much money you have in your bank account or how many clothes you have in your closet.

Happiness, as a psychology researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky, describes is “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

Do you see anything about getting more stuff or being in a certain mood in that description? I don’t think so.

Happiness is not being on a perpetual high or feeling good all the time. Ask a heroin user whether he or she is happy. If being on a high and feeling good at least temporarily were the only prerequisite, you may find that the answer is “yes.” But that happiness does not last.

Consistent joy and meaning in life have proven to be more beneficial to personal well-being than reaching a pinnacle of happiness. After all, the roller coaster ride must come to a stop at some point. Beyond that, if you always focus on getting a good feeling, you’re less likely to get it since feeling good all the time is not humanly possible.

Show me, one person who feels good about everything, every minute of the day, every day of their life and I will show you ten thousand people who don’t rely on their feelings to reach their goals or to get them through each day.

The truth is, for most of your life, nothing exciting or super wonderful is going to happen. You won’t get married every day. You won’t have a new kid every day. Every evening won’t be date night, or movie night, or ladies’ night out. You won’t buy a new house, car, or clothes every day. You won’t get a pay raise or be rewarded for your efforts every day.

It’s simply not going to happen. And if you rely on something new or special to get you excited or make you happy every single day of your life, I can assure you that you will be miserable 95% of the time. Most of life can be described as “in between”. In between your wedding day and your ten-year anniversary. In between your first job after college and your retirement forty years later.

If you don’t enjoy your cup of coffee in the morning (and for some of us, in the afternoon) and if you don’t enjoy your work, and the people you’re around, and the meals you get to eat, and the house you get to live in, and the bed you get to sleep in and get up from, chances are you will be very unhappy.

Happiness has nothing to do with being rich or getting everything you want. The statement “money can’t buy happiness” certainly stands true. While you may be happy in terms of ecstatic or excited about a 25% pay raise, that excitement will eventually wear off as your expectations will soon change to fit your new financial influx.

For some people, more money equals more stuff. However, one study found that happiness rises with one’s income only up to $75,000 and after that, it’s all back downhill. Of course, this is not the case if you spend your newfound financial freedom on experiences that you and others enjoy. This is because positive memories are priceless.

Contrary to popular belief, happiness is not a journey or a destination. You don’t arrive at happiness. In fact, the very pursuit of happiness obstructs happiness. True happiness is a part of who you are and stems from you having meaning and purpose in life. People are unhappy largely because they are relying on superficial things and imperfect people to make them so.

If we cease going about happiness the wrong way, that is, by seeking to feel good, and instead, focus on meaning and purpose, we realize that we are more in control of how we feel than we think and are able to form habits that lead to a fulfilling life.

Happiness void of meaning and significance leads to a rather shallow and selfish life. Meaning is long-lasting. It connects us to every experience, past, present, and future. Therefore, instead of worrying about the future or fearing the past, we find that every start and stop point in life is filled with lessons. If we stop searching for happiness long enough, we might just find meaning which produces the happiness we seek.

Featured image via Quiet The Chaos

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