We chase happiness. We hunt it down like predators. And when we finally catch it, we worry it in our jaws, shaking it back and forth until it slips away.
Something else comes along to distract us. Another shiny bauble to chase, something even prettier than the lovely little item that made us happy yesterday, which now looks rather tarnished, dull and faded and even ugly in this new light.
Although the Founding Fathers weren’t expressing a philosophy, they might as well have been when they wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Notice that they didn’t say we had the right to happiness, just the right to pursue it.
We all want happiness, but only some of us are truly wired for it. Some people just happen to be happy most of the time. Those of us who aren’t, well, we envy them. We assume their lives are better than ours: they make more money or have a better home or stronger relationships.
It can’t be that they’re just happier for no reason, right?
Actually, they might be. Happiness, it turns out, is a choice. Not an easy one for those of us who don’t happen to be blessed with overly optimistic wiring, but it IS a choice. And perhaps the best way to achieve it is to redefine what it means to be happy, because happiness means different things to different people at different times.
What about contentment and satisfaction and peace of mind? Those are all variants of a mental state similar to happiness, but they don’t require us to pursue them with the same ferocity, the same fixated passion as is required for following your bliss.
They generally come about as a reward for a job well done. They’re more passive in a way because when you finish that project you’ve been toiling away at for weeks or months or years, you feel satisfied, content, at peace.
That’s a happiness more easily achieved than the bliss of some perfect and possibly unattainable star. When you chase perfection, when you become obsessed with it, you lose perspective. Everything else falls to the wayside while you devote your efforts to this one glorious accomplishment.
And, of course, if you do happen to attain your bliss, your perfect fulfillment, you often find that maintaining that feeling for any length of time is difficult. We are acquisitive by nature, we humans. We want things. We desire that which we don’t have. So no matter what we acquire, we always tend to want more.
If we can understand that, we can take joy from the pursuit of happiness, from doing the kinds of things that will lead us to a place of wellbeing, where we can derive joy from our accomplishments even if those successes aren’t as grand as we would like them to be.
And if we cannot run from our obsessions, if we cannot temper our passions, we have only ourselves to blame.