|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.