What is happiness? What exactly is happiness that almost all humans want that lasts? That all people crave for, strive throughout their lives to achieve it? People may spend years trying to find the ultimate happiness that they hope will remain throughout their lives. Happiness is often fleeting, and the search for happiness often seems as if it were a mirage, the closer you get, the farther it appears to you
There is a tendency to believe that changes in our situations or things will give us happiness such as an enjoyable career, children, family and tend to avoid things that will result in pain and suffering such as such as loss, separation, or health problems.
Dr Harris’s research suggests that suffering comes not from the experience of emotional pain, but from our attempted avoidance of that pain. In addition to this some of the common myths about happiness explored in his book the happiness trap are:
1. Social norms adapted from culture The natural way for humans is to be happy
2. There is something wrong if you are not happy.
3. Get rid of negative feelings to create a better life
4. You should be able to control what you think and feel.
Given that we have all been taught to be happy, why is it so difficult?
From the primitive ages, the human mind has evolved on how to be cautious of danger and how to avoid it. Early humans were taught that there were two ways to survive;
- To avoid life threatening danger
- To belong to a group.
Those fear of getting away from a dangerous animal has transformed into fear of losing job, not being able to pay bills, public embarrassment and fear of being rejected by a loved one or dying from dis-ease.
To belong, we spent much energy in worrying for fear of abandonment on how to avoid those uncomfortable scenarios, stressing over whether people will like us or not or do we match their standards that we stopped feeling happiness.
What actually is the happiness we want in our lives?
Happiness has two meanings; one is to feel the emotion that is gratifying, pleasurable and which makes you ultimately happy. We tend to enjoy these happy feelings and thus we chase it and try to hold it harder so that those feelings does not fade away. But this is not what life is all about, it has shades of pain, anger, dissatisfaction and failure and in result we experience depression and anxiety.
However, the other meaning of happiness is more practical approach to have a “rich, full and meaningful” life. We take action on the things that are important for us, we strive for those things that are valuable.
When we set our priority to achieve those things that matter really deep in our hearts then our lives become rich and full and meaningful and it gives a sense of vitality. It also helps us to feel the full range of human emotions.
The reality of life is that it involves pain and we can’t get away from it. Sooner or later things that give us happiness fades away and we crave for more and we all experience those painful thoughts and feelings.
Ultimately, when we shift our definition of happiness to an enriching and meaningful life, the less there is a tendency to focus our lives around experiences which bring us pleasure.
In the next article about emotions, I’ll explain how our emotions impact our happiness and what we can do about it.