Life is a funny thing. So much of our lives are dedicated to finding happiness, yet in a study conducted by the Harris Poll Survey of American Happiness, only ⅓ of Americans report feelings of happiness.
The others? Well, not so. It could be why so many of us keep doing the same things but we don’t get the results that we want or expect. I believe the reason for this is because finding happiness is completely counterintuitive. Here are 5 things I’ve learned about happiness and why it can often feel so difficult to achieve it.
1. Some pursue happiness. Others create it.
Maybe the real problem these days is that people chase too hard to find happiness.
Happiness is like any other emotion. It’s not something you obtain, but it’s something you inhabit.
When you feel angry, you don’t aim to feel angry. You don’t ask yourself if you’re doing anger right.
You are the anger. You inhabit and live it, and then it’s gone.
Just as a self-assured person doesn’t question whether they are in fact self-assured, a happy person does not wonder if they are happy, they simply are.
What I’m trying to get at is that finding happiness is not achieved by itself, but rather it is the side effect of life experience in general.
Marketing has made out that happiness is the goal of anything we do.
We’ve all heard those marketing campaigns before.
If you buy this product, you’ll be happy.
But we all know that you can’t buy happiness, and you can’t achieve it. It just happens, once you get different parts of your life in order.
2. Happiness is not the same as pleasure
Most of us confuse happiness with pleasure.
When we go and get that expensive massage, we believe it’ll make us “happy”.
But what we are really seeking is pleasure.
This goes the same for good food, movies, and time out with friends.
Pleasure is fun, but it’s not happiness.
And despite what you may think, pursuing pleasure for the rest of your life will not lead you to a happy life.
You only need to see a person who is addicted to drugs to see how that turns out.
In fact, research has shown that people who seek pleasure (especially material pleasure) end up more emotionally unstable and anxious.
Pleasure is what we’re told to focus on, but isn’t sufficient for a happy life.
3. You don’t need to lower Your expectations to achieve happiness
You may have heard before that if you lower your expectations, you’ll find it easier to achieve happiness.
This is because if you’re satisfied with a $100,000 a year job, and you aren’t desiring a $200,000 a year job, then you’ll be content and happy.
While this idea has merit, it still ties pleasure and superficial material expectations to happiness.
What I believe is that the failure to meet our own expectations does not lead to unhappiness.
After all, it’s important to experience life in all possible manners and learn from our mistakes.
Learning from our mistakes is how we learn and become creative.
After all, it’s only by taking action, making mistakes and experiencing all that life has to offer that we improve ourselves.
If we set our expectations low, then we won’t experience everything that life has to offer.
It’s only by experiencing sadness and the inevitable lows of life that you will allow yourself to create happiness.
4. Being positive all the time does not lead to happiness
We’ve all met someone who is ridiculously happy and positive all the time, regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in.
But what you aren’t seeing is what they’re really feeling deep inside themselves.
It’s actually more likely that they might be one of the more dysfunctional people in your life.
Research has found that people who deny negative emotions tend to be more emotionally dysfunctional.
The bottom line is this:
Life is tough, and everybody experiences tribulations that are difficult to overcome.
The truth is, you will feel negative emotions no matter who you are.
In fact, negative emotions are necessary to create a balance in your life.
But you need to process those negative emotions in a healthy manner. This means accepting them and expressing them so you can release them.
If you avoid negative emotions because you want to be positive all the time, then those negative emotions will fester in the background and bite you harder in the long run.
5. What is happiness? Experience, meaning, and fulfillment
What do you think would make you happier?
Starting a business with some friends, struggling to make ends meet, making mistakes and learning a hell of a lot about how business works or buying a new laptop?
In the end, I’m sure you’ll derive more meaning and more happiness out of starting a small business.
The funny thing is that it would also involve a lot more unpleasant moments than buying a new laptop.
But it’s experiences like starting a new business that allows us to gain from experience and learn from it to improve ourselves.
It’s the pursuit of meaning and fulfillment that grants us happiness, regardless of the number of positive emotions.
It’s not finishing a marathon that will you happy. It’s going through all the training and the journey to get there.
It’s who you are in the present moment, your ideals, your values, and your actions, that will make you happy or unhappy.
This is why Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh says that “our idea of happiness can often prevent us from actually being happy”.
This is because happiness can only exist in the present moment, so it’s rather ridiculous to say “Wait until I finish this, then I will be happy”.
If we think way, happiness will never become. There is always another “this” that will follow the present one.
If you try to be happy, it already implies that you’re not happy with who you currently are.
If you were already your ideal self, you wouldn’t feel the need to try to be happy.
By Lachlan Brown, the founder of Hack Spirit, a blog on mindfulness and practical psychology.