Trying to make sense of life and to learn living it happily.

To subscribe type your email in the box on the right or clicking on the link at the bottom of the page to receive notifications of my new posts.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness

art by ~spoonbard

The pursuit of happiness is an inherent right of every person written into the American Constitution.
However, it seems that happiness is not the top priority in our current culture. People are conditioned to pursue other things, like success and wealth more persistently than happiness. It is more commonly approved to reach for various society standards such as prestigious career, sizable bank account, traditional family, good social standing, celebrity status, your own house and motorized means of transportation, etc.
If you say that you would rather be happy, people will think you strange.
If you have a traditional family and a prestigious career, and you say you are not happy, people will say: “and who are?”, or “so what?”, or “maybe it is in your future”, or “see my shrink”.
Happiness is not commonly considered too terribly important, or a goal in itself.
On the other hand, it is unfashionable and even impolite being unhappy. Maybe you are not happy, but you are not to show it. You are supposed to readily answer “Fine, thank you” to “how do you do”. This simple exchange represents our mentality.
It seems like happiness is not a priority, but we are still supposed to put on game face and be happy. This gives us a very slight margin of getting it right, and a lot of stress to keep smiling even if we do not feel like it.
Of course, each of us wants to be happy. The Dalai Lama said that everyone is similar in their desire for happiness and avoidance of suffering. If we get right down to it, all our choices and actions are powered by this goal, conscious or subconscious – the pursuit of happiness.
Each of us does it in our own way. We race after happiness, and we look for it in lots of different directions. Majority of us try to get the happiness from the outside - we search, we try, we pray for it, we play games of chance, we look for that special someone to spend our life with, we make friends to be a part of a group, we have kids (or pets) to fill our lives with love and purpose, we strive for more power, for a better paying job, for a nice vacation to finally get a chance to relax and again reenter the cycle of our lives.
All of the above are perfectly fine goals in life. But we elevate them to a higher level, we ascribe our ability to be happy to them. We believe they have the power to make us happier. If only I had more money… If only I met the perfect partner… If only my kids had better dispositions… then I would be happy for sure.
This way of thinking disregards the most important piece of knowledge about happiness: it is in our attitude. It comes from within us, from our perception of things.
To be happy, we have to embrace this knowledge. We have to put top priority to our perceptions of life, not the society’s perception.
No “pursuit” can bring us closer to our happiness. There are no specific things or qualities that we have to possess or achieve in order to guarantee a happy life. We should not think of happiness in terms of “pursuing” it. We should cultivate it, grow it in our heads and hearts. Instill it into our daily outlook, our habitual attitude. Take a moment to acknowledge yourself as you are now, in this moment, and learn to appreciate it, be at peace with it, be happy about it without regard to anything.
The practice of the skill of being content with whatever we are and whatever is around us is the path to lasting happiness.


  1. The pursuit of happiness is engrained in the american culture, which found its way to every corner of the world. It seems however that everyone is after pleasure, no matter how transient it might feel.
    Like you said in earlier posts, we have to firmly understand that even though pleasure is part of happiness, we still must feel content with ourselves and our cirumstances in order really be happy.

    1. You are right, Misha. The idea of what true happiness is seems distorted. In order to even start achieving happiness (and teach it to our kids), we first need to have a firm understanding of what it really is. Otherwise we will spend our lives doing things that do not grant us lasting happiness, and end up being frustrated with our lives and ourselves.
      Thank you for your comments.

  2. Hi, Olga,

    It's funny how often the term "pursuit of happiness" is mentioned in this culture--I even talk about it in my new historical fiction novel since the term was popular during the Second World War with G.I's--yet few think of looking within to find happiness, realizing it is within us all. Thanks for shedding the light inward with your post and making me smile with the artwork by spoonbard.--Sandra Neil Wallace

    1. Sandra,
      thank you for your comment.
      Sometimes I think that it is so much easier to think that happiness is "out there" to be searched for rather than to know that it is contained within us. It takes more strength and courage to acknowledge that we are the ones responsible for our happiness (and hence, misery), not anyone or anything else.
      Besides, the notion of "pursuit of happiness" sounds more noble, more romantic and more inspiring than just quiet contentment.