Seeking Happiness Can Make You Miserable

The pursuit of happiness seems to be a hot topic these days. There are books, articles, movies, and even classes on the subject. And why not? Who doesn’t want to be happy? It’s in our collective mental state, going back to our founding fathers who wrote in the Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

What does happiness mean to you? Is it a feeling such as a sense of euphoria or immense well-being? Is it a description of aspects of your life such as career success or job satisfaction, loving family relationships, good quality friendships, having romance in your life, lots of leisure time, spiritual or religious connection? Or something else?

How often do you experience the “happiness” that relates to any of the above, or other factors? What effect does the “happiness” have on the way you think, the way you act towards others, how you feel about yourself, how it improves your effectiveness and peace of mind?

One of the most important aspects of developing your “happiness” way of being is to look at your mindset. Do you see people or events from a negative or positive perspective? Do you dwell on the negative and does it bring your mood down? Do your negative thoughts last longer than your positive thoughts–do you see a negative event as lasting or temporary?

“We are raised in a culture that tells us we should not have negative feelings — we shouldn’t be sad, we shouldn’t be angry,” says Amanda Baten, nutritional psychologist. “There’s a distinction to be made between what’s an appropriate and healthy negative emotion that actually guides us to problem-solve by tolerating that feeling, versus what becomes the unhealthy negative emotional reaction or feeling.” By Jamie Ducharme July 31, 2018 TIME Magazine

The average unhappy person spends more than twice as much time thinking about unpleasant events in their lives, while happy people tend to see and rely upon information that brightens their personal outlook. (Lyubomirsky 1994)

If you’ve lived on this planet for more than 20 years, are an adult, and don’t enjoy feeling awful, then you’re likely to be searching for whatever is your version of happiness. You may have made a conscious intention to seek out happiness, you may be just thinking you want to feel better and enjoy life more without labeling it “happiness.”

Often, we assume happiness will bring a state of bliss and keep us from knowing any hurt or discomfort.

Efforts to seek happiness can take the form of:

  • avoiding anything unpleasant in conversation, deeds, or experiences
  • avoiding people you know, when they are unhappy, or troubled, or conflicted
  • focusing your activities on whatever you define happiness as (and maybe neglecting things that need to be done)
  • blocking out awareness in conversations of seeing something you are uncomfortable with in yourself or others by changing the subject, making jokes, or shutting down your thoughts and feelings
  • having fantasy-like expectations of yourself and others in an effort to create an ideal atmosphere.
  • suppressing or denying any painful experiences, present or past

In essence, you may be attempting to create a perfect world, to live in a kind of bubble that protects you from pain, sadness, disappointment, loss, rejection, etc.

Of course we all want to feel good, to enjoy life. The challenge is to figure out how we can really do that without dodging the inevitable roadblocks that are a part of being human.

The above ways of seeking happiness can hamper your ability to develop coping mechanisms to help you through the tough times. There is no way to avoid the tough times. When you learn those skills, the tough times will be less ominous, and give you a sense of confidence that will enhance your sense of well-being. The feeling of well-being will get you much closer to your goal of being “happy.”

If you haven’t done so already, think about what will make your life truly fulfilling and meaningful.

It might not be “happiness.” According to the founding father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, a happy life is one that is pleasurable, engaging, and meaningful. And the more engaging and meaningful, the better. Seligman suggests that people who focus their energies on leading an engaged and meaningful life are more successful at achieving lifelong happiness than those who focus on the transitory feel-goods of pleasure.

So, the first step is to give some real thought to what makes your life meaningful? Make a list, because writing it down will help you absorb those important aspects.

In our culture today, we tend to focus on earning enough money (whatever amount that is), living in a nice house, having the time to engage in fun activities, attaining a measure of professional success, and having a stress-free relationship.

In his 2008 book, “Gross National Happiness,” Dr. Arthur Brooks argues that what’s crucial to well-being is not how cheerful you feel, not how much money you make, but rather the meaning you find in life and your sense of “earned success” — the belief that you have created value in your life or others’ lives.

In 2009, researchers from the University of Rochester conducted a study tracking the success of 147 recent graduates in reaching their stated goals after graduation. Some had “intrinsic” goals, such as deep, enduring relationships. Others had “extrinsic” goals, such as achieving reputation or fame. The scholars found that intrinsic goals were associated with happier lives. But the people who pursued extrinsic goals experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and fear. They even suffered more physical maladies.

Studies of older Americans find that one of the best predictors of happiness is whether a person considers his or her life to have a purpose. Without a clearly defined purpose, seven in ten individuals feel unsettled about their lives’. (Lepper 1996)

All too often the word “happiness” has connotations of being in a state of euphoria, or at least a continual sense of heightened well-being—not compatible with being human!

True happiness can be achieved by defining your purpose and creating value in your life and those around you.

That will be more durable, more lasting. It beats “euphoria” every time.

I’m interested in your comments and learning about your thoughts on Happiness.

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