The Happiness Narrative: The Critical Issue in Obsessing Over Being Happy
Seeing beyond the obvious pursuit of pursuing happiness.
What is our life’s purpose? For most of us, the happening answer might be to draw happiness. Upon reflecting upon the intention of human desires, I think almost all our end goals yearn only for happiness.
In an ever-increasing globalized world, the everyday activities of humans get tied to similar attributes where being happy remains the ultimate priority. In fact, happiness to everyone stands as the standard judgment of a good life.
Perhaps, the objective goal of any task is imbibed with a quest for happiness.
Whether it’s exploring well-settled job opportunities, spending our time with family, motivating selves through self-help books, indulging in an excursion activity, or bettering our health, every adventure in our journey directly or indirectly carves itself into a pursuit inclining towards happiness.
Drawing through an observation, most people, in general, weigh their events in life on the merit-list of happiness.
In my case, I thought clearing the goal of public services might leave me - the happiest, scheduling an early morning routine might gift me with extra happy hours, or that meditating will mend issues on the soul level.
Here, the crux is every event in my life, like many others, existed on an inbuilt longing for happiness. If happiness got granted, things blossomed. On the reverse side, an unhappy state polarised a feeling of the void within me.
Happiness, in totality, stands as a vital ingredient of human well-being and health. Thus, it is reasonable to believe that valuing happiness will favor our desired outcomes. But, all we suppose at the human level of imagination speaks of a different reality in the real world.
Although a state of happiness may be the highest good, a pivotal space from which all goodness flows, however, the problem arises when we are obsessed with happiness. It is because our overvaluing happiness might prove to be self-defeating.
A 2016 report stated, “the happiness pursuit has gone out of hand. In the American culture, the people who obsessed over being happy in fact were found miserable.” Be that west or east, human culture since ages has remained fixated upon happiness.
Desperately seeking happiness instead of sprinkling happy colors can leave us depressed. Ample evidence suggested that highly valuing happiness exposes us to the risk of low well-being. It can further cascade our life with adverse outcomes. Yet, most of our life aspects are build on the outcome of happiness, where a good result leaves us in a state of bliss, and the bad ones inject us with disappointments.
None of the reasoning is justifiable, for happiness is a subjective concept that cannot be objectively measured by us.
As social creatures, people shouldn’t over-attach themselves to happiness for happiness. In reality, for people to remain permanently in a happy phase isn’t evergreeningly possible for happiness isn’t a constant emotion or a fixed entity. It’s dynamic.
Interconnecting different happiness conceptions
To each one of us, the conception of happiness varies. While some might ideate happiness in the minor things. For others, happiness is dependant on external principles or lies in the grand scheme of things.
In this way, each one of us holds the hands of happiness to meet pleasant experiences.
Being happy in the present times has become the determining force for our joyous existence. And then we are so obsessively engaged in our quest for happiness that our struggle for being happy seems unending.
It’s quite an easy assumption for us to make that happiness since antiquity remains valued as the highest good.
If we rely on the above assumption, yet there’s no guarantee that happiness is a healing solution for all our causes.
A simple reason is that human emotion, unlike happiness, keeps changing. It’s not permanent. With that, emotions also get linked with the time that gives birth to pleasurable or unpleasant experiences.
It’s not that only emotions change, but with the changing times, the impact of the timeline influences our emotions that shift the happiness quotient accordingly.
As the times passed, we witnessed that many valued emotions like pride, honor, apathy have faded over time. Amazingly, some antipathic behaviors or negative emotions narrowed down then disappeared altogether. Whether we agree or not, nothing in the human universe is constant. By this narrative, even the emotions we experience are subjected to change, thus making their behavior ambiguous in the revolving universe.
In our obsessive pursuit of happiness, the internal pretext of happiness being the supreme good is flawed.
The modern era depicts happiness as the solution for all suffering.
Society in the modern decade searches for practical techniques to bring a culture of happiness rather than rooting on the philosophical reason behind it. We forget the authentic feeling behind the happiness in lieu of our wants and the standards set for achieving that want.
Generally, “happiness is characterized as a state where sadness, depression, and melancholy are inexistent.”
We associate being happy through our negligence of the lousy emotions and think that the chemical reactions in the mind trigger happiness that swipes away the sufferings. In reality, it isn’t.
It’s because both pain and happiness are inseparable entities. We can be happy yet sad, as well as we can be sad yet optimistic about happiness. We need to find the reason behind our happiness or suffering rather than over-valuing the happiness itself.
The epic tale of the ancient wanderer Siddhartha Gautama narrates how our sufferings have meaning stored. Born in the 6th century to a king and queen, this legendary Prince got raised in the world of happiness. While growing up, his childhood remained shielded from worldly sufferings and he lived in his royal bubble of happiness. Despite the abundance kissing his feet, the Prince realized that the state of happiness to him felt temporary and suffering was an inescapable reality.
Thus, every human life, even the most fortunate ones, is bound to experience pain. Painful disappointments, painful loss, the physical pain of sickness and injury, and the psychological pain of enduring boredom, depressed feelings, or loneliness all exist in our lives.
To think of suffering as an alien emotion is un-serving.
When the Prince acknowledged the sufferings, he walked the middle path to seek meaning behind it that made him eventually awaken as “Buddha” or “The Enlightened One.”
Minimization of pain isn’t an essence for happiness. It’s seeking meaning in the pain that helps us rise above the sufferings and blesses us with a reason to experience happiness.
“Humans may resemble many other creatures in their striving for happiness, but the quest for meaning is the key part of what makes us humans, and uniquely so.” Roy Baumeister et al. (2013)
Characteristics of a good life
When we hear the term “good life,” we relate it with a life devoid of atrocities and abundant with luxuries. A good life caricatures itself as the ones that can give any pleasant experience we desire.
The hypothesis of this good life assures us joyful experiences by fulfilling our every wish.
Having said that, our assumed notion of good life points to something that can be more worrying. While good life aims towards happiness, it shouldn’t be at a cost of indifference to suffering.
As I had mentioned previously, when we acknowledge suffering, we release ourselves from the hopes of illusionary emotions. As such, the final appeal of an individual life shouldn’t be about overvaluing happiness, maximizing pleasure or morality, or living in an obsessive pursuit of happiness that is less meaningful.
We must accept dissatisfaction, pain, unhappiness as part of the human condition to pick the subtle meaning behind the “good life.” Arising from this place, we recognize that good life might not be a perfect assistant for us to remain limitlessly happy, but then it paves a way to happiness by our mere acceptance of happiness and suffering.
To find a good life, we must travel the mean or middle path as taken by the legendary Prince Siddhartha. We can progress on this journey by taking on the eudaimonic path to happiness.
Unlike the ornamental or meaningless concepts of happiness, eudaimonia relies on in-habiting actions, making conscious efforts to critically examine and find the middle path to happiness.
Happiness rising through eudaimonia remains not pillared on the emotional experiences; instead, it imbibes a strong foundation built slowly through our effortful actions.
In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle mentioned that: “the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life…for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.’
It is only through the construction of virtuous actions and sowing everyday efforts that help people in attaining the true virtues of happiness.
At the moment where events are not under our control, like situations of war, pandemic scenarios, hunger, and poverty, or cases of unrequited love, then thinking about happiness might seem daunting. In such gloomy times, staying happy turns utterly tricky.
The good life in the events beyond our control rises through working on those challenging moments through finding a mean path amidst the extremes.
The human pursuit of happiness remains identified as our inalienable right, but there is a substantial difference in how we all value happiness.
Our obsession with being happy might cause counterproductive results where the individual setting of the happiness standards can lead to disappointments paradoxically decreasing the ultimate goal of being happy.
Recognizing this fault in our mindset will uproot the blemishes of life, dispel the illusionary hopes to receive eternal contentment, and help us cultivate a mindset that embraces the sufferings as a means to flourish towards a happier path.
As once remarked by Khalil Gibran, “Drink not from this cup of happiness unless you forget the past and the future, for happiness is naught but the moment.” Further, he mentioned, “Drink from this cup of sorrow and you will understand the meaning of the fleeting instants of the joy of life, for sorrow ever abounds.”