Chasing happiness… isn’t that what life’s supposed to be about? I see it in self-help circles, I hear it from inspirational speakers and coaches, it’s plastered in inspirational memes all over the Internet:
“Do what makes you happy.”
Let’s face it, happiness feels good. Who wouldn’t want to feel good all the time?
A good portion of my life has been about looking inward and developing a stronger sense of spirit and mindfulness. There was a time when I thought seeking to be happy was a big part of living a fulfilled life.
Now I know I was wrong. It isn’t. Not even close.
Happiness as a goal is unrealistic. It’s falling for the myth that being happy 100% of the time is desirable. Or even possible.
This, too, shall pass.
How many times do I hear or say “this, too, shall pass” in the course of a day, addressing things that feel uncomfortable and stressful? This is an important life skill when dealing with adversity. But it doesn’t just apply to the ‘bad’ feelings. It applies to all feelings – including happiness.
Thoughts and feelings come and go like a river flowing by, never steadfast nor permanent. That’s the way we human beings are built, dynamic and ever-changing.
Just sit back for a second and notice all the thoughts that are going through your mind as you read this. A bunch of them one after the other, leading to the next in a steady, evolving flow.
If human nature dictates that feelings are fleeting and we know that happiness is a feeling, it stands to reason that the feeling of happiness won’t stick around permanently.
So why keep chasing it?
Perceptions are not permanent.
Perceptions are malleable and prone to change at any time. What seems to bring happiness in this moment could seem awful later.
A barking dog may bring joy as I watch it bound playfully in the backyard with the ball I’ve thrown for it. A few minutes later, the same barking dog may scare me as I accidentally step on its tail and, baring its teeth, growls at me.
Either way, it’s still just a barking dog.
Perceptions of good and bad are just labels that we as humans stick on things. We try to create an illusion of truth, when really it’s all subjective. Somewhere along the line I learned to think that happy is good, unhappy is bad.
I chase the good, so I am chasing an illusion.
Seems silly, doesn’t it?
There’s a huge pressure in chasing happiness.
Chasing happiness sets up an unrealistic assumption that being happy is an arrival point, a superior way of being, something to be achieved.
Life is made up of a wide range of experiences, not all of which include the emotional high of happiness. Some experiences bring sadness, grief, anger. If I am striving to be happy, as in feeling good, all the time, I’ll never arrive. I am clinging to only one set of impermanent thoughts and feelings, not fully being in the present moment.
Happiness naturally ebbs and flows away as it naturally will in any healthy human being.
When we think that being happy all the time is possible if we just go after it, there is an expectation of perfection. When we don’t achieve it, we can come to believe there must be something wrong with us which, ironically, can take us even further away from the happiness we’re chasing.
There’s a huge pressure in maintaining happiness.
To add to the pressure, let’s say I do happen to find moments of happiness in my life along the way. Then what?
All my energy needs to go toward maintaining the state and circumstances in which I am happy. Since happiness passes eventually, it’s an impossible task. I need to try increasingly harder to hold on to that happiness, or to find it again somewhere else.
The more I try, the more I struggle, the more I fail at being happy all the time because the kind of happy I’m looking for can’t exist within struggle.
An endless, self-defeating cycle.
Should we chase sadness, too?
It occurs to me that it makes no sense to chase happiness any more than chasing sadness, fear or anger. One set of feelings is no more important or superior to any other.
If I’ve learned that the feelings I perceive as bad will come and go naturally, it only makes sense that I know that the feeling of happiness will also come and go. They are all transient.
Embrace them all, welcome them all. Breathe with them all.
I think the sayings that encourage us to be happy all the time are just urging us to chase the rush of endorphins that comes with the feeling of happiness.
Living a full, rich life means to experience the full range of feelings that come naturally, no matter what they are. When I come from a place of compassion and loving kindness, I embrace everything that I feel, everything that I experience.
In the centre of that realization is acceptance. And within the acceptance is a great sense of peace. Quiet within. Inner peace.
Stop chasing happiness.
There’s a poem I heard many years ago that says it best:
Happiness is like a butterfly.
The more you chase it, the more it eludes you.
But if you turn your attention to other things,
it comes and sits
on your shoulder.
Come to think of it… stop chasing everything.
There is no route to finding inner peace. No trick to get there, no struggles to overcome.
Stop chasing is about relaxing into life, letting go, showing up, embracing and welcoming everything as if you’d chosen it. (You have.)
So, I slow down enough to ask myself if I want happiness or inner peace.
Even when I am not happy, I would rather have a sense of peace deep inside. No need to change anything, do anything, become anything different.
Quietly confident and trusting of the process. That is inner peace.
As I read in this article on mojitomother.com some time ago, “The search for happiness is a futile one. It’s something you can’t ever attain and so in the process of trying you end up feeling worse about yourself.”
Yep. I’ll take the strong, steady experience of inner peace over the fleeting feeling of happiness any day of the week.