The desire to live happy motivates us to pursue what we think will create it.
Some find it. Others only bump into to from time to time. Then, seemingly, as suddenly and randomly as bumping into happiness, in a flash, it’s gone again. Still others have a hard time ever even spotting it along the side of the road of the life they travel.
The problem is that far too many people don’t know what produces the thing they seek. They’ve been educated on Disney movies or sitcoms and now have a warped sense of what happiness is all about.
So they pursue it in the wrong places: They look for it in the next thrill or in the next relationship, or in the next job or the bigger house. Or they wait for it, hoping it will arrive when the kids move out or when the Democrats or Republicans win or when they get that anticipated promotion or when they retire.
No wonder happiness for so many often seems an illusion, a shifting shadow, out of reach. As I’ve said before, happiness is a state of being rather than a condition of circumstance. And yet we all sometimes catch ourselves looking for happiness outside, from others, from what we have or own or from the numbers in the portfolio or the job title. And yet happiness cannot be found lurking in such external things.
THREE HAPPINESS MYTHS
1. Fun & Excitement = Happiness
I love to wrestle with my 5-year-old son. We play Transformers and have tickle fights. He is fun and funny and we enjoy playing with each other. But dinner, bath and bedtime rob me of those richly rewarding moments. The fun ends when he goes to bed. And when the fun is over, well, it’s over.
Fun ends; happiness endures. Pursuing the former too vigorously can delay attainment of the latter indefinitely. Just as unhappiness is not the absence of excitement, excitement is not the same thing as happiness. It is those who confuse the two that often end up with lots of fun and little deep-rooted happiness.
2. Enjoyment & Pleasure = Happiness
We can enjoy a sunset or take pleasure in the laughter of a child. And such external conditions and experiences can certainly add immense joy to our lives. But sunsets end as darkness swallows the remaining rays of light. Children stop laughing and sometimes cry. The enjoyment ends. The pleasure stops. But that’s not what happiness was to begin with.
3. Fame and Fortune = Happiness
Just a quick glance at Hollywood should be enough to dispel this myth! Look at the cases of anorexia and petty theft and divorce and rehab and scandal. If fame and fortune were somehow connected to happiness, Hollywood should be the new happiest place on earth. It’s not because such things don’t produce what so many from the outside looking in think they produce.
The reason the myths above fail to produce true happiness is that such things are transitory, shifting, experience-oriented or conditional. “I had fun at Disneyland. I enjoy a good book. The rollercoaster or skiing or my first date was exciting. That bath or massage or taste was pleasurable.” When the vacation ends, the fun is over. When the ride stops, the excitement is done. When the masseuse stops massaging, the pleasure receptors stop signaling. Such positive feelings are event-specific and tied to that moment or the memory of it.
They are reactions to events and activities, emotional and physiological responses to external stimuli. Happiness, by contrast, is enduring, a state of being, the natural extension of principles adhered to and character traits developed.
In other words, happiness is not something that happens to you. It is something you develop, even earn, as the end product of a life building and developing those traits that produce the state we desire.
Happiness is still around when the fun is over, the pleasure and the memory of it extinguished, the excitement dulled and the enjoyment no longer enjoyable. It’s the feeling you have when you look into a mirror and like the person looking back at you, when you look out at life and an involuntary sigh of gratitude or satisfaction slips from your lips.