Should We Pursue Happiness?

November 09, 2015

Albert Camus said, “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Does this mean we shouldn’t try to seek ways to be happier? Should we just “get over it” and live the life before us?

Well, that depends on what we mean by happiness.

If we’re confusing happiness with pleasure, maybe. Continual chasing of pleasure and feel-good moments will not bring deep and lasting happiness. Being afraid of or avoiding negative emotions will also backfire, because frankly, no life is devoid of experiences that feel sad or scary and there is a lot to be learned from those experiences. But happiness as I define it here on the blog isn’t just pleasure—it’s a deeper, wider, more all-encompassing emotion. An emotion that includes joy and pleasure, but also satisfaction after achieving something worthwhile, or living up to my ideals in a difficult situation. It also encompasses contentment and a feeling of well-being. So many facets of happiness make achieving it easier as well as more worthwhile.

We run into trouble when we feel we should always feel happy. Negative feelings are normal. Thinking we shouldn’t have them can make us even more miserable. We shouldn’t pursue feelings of happiness at the expense of everything else. That would be like eating only chocolate and never eating spinach and expecting to be healthy. Maybe the spinach doesn’t taste as good as the chocolate (at least to me it doesn’t), but it offers nutrients chocolate doesn’t. I want to be strong and healthy in both body and mind, and I can’t do that if I only eat chocolate…or pursue pleasure. We should be open and accepting of the richness of all our emotions, even times of sadness, fear, boredom, or frustration. These emotions often bear a message of change, or wake us up from sleepwalking through life.

I can’t say that I’ve been especially happy the past two weeks. And yet—I have. I’m heartbroken over losing our beloved family dog, but somehow the breaking open of my heart has allowed in the caring and understanding of others, and in those moments, I’ve felt loved by and connected to them in ways I hadn’t before. The crack in my heart has released my feelings of love and gratitude for those people, and for the many other rich gifts in my life.

What does pursuing happiness mean to you?


Surprised By Happiness

September 09, 2011

When you think of being happy, do you primarily think of doing fun things, getting what you want, or having your life running smoothly? Me, too—but that’s only part of the picture. Happiness is not just something that appears when you reach a goal or finally have that free time you’ve been longing for. Here are some surprising sources of happiness:

For many, work is a source of deep and lasting happiness. Ariel Gore wrote in Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness: “...in recent years I’d noticed a growing disconnect between the things I imagined would make me happy and the things that actually did. Potentially ego-boosting rites of passage in my career, for example—awards or good reviews—only seemed to cause me anxiety. Allowing myself to be absorbed in my work, on the other hand, whether it was writing or teaching or doing some familial chore I outwardly complained about, brought a quiet contentment I could feel radiate from my chest.” She continued later in the book, “When we strike a balance between the challenge of an activity and our skill at performing it, when the rhythm of the work itself feels in sync with our pulse, when we know that what we’re doing matters, we can get totally absorbed in our task. That is happiness.”

I don’t know about you, but when I need a quick shot of satisfaction, I begin cleaning and/or organizing. One of my favorite bloggers, Crazy Aunt Purl (Laurie Perry), coped with a scary and unexpected move by scrubbing grout! Perhaps putting one small area of our lives in order helps us cope with chaos elsewhere, I don’t know. All I know is a clean and organized office/refrigerator/hall closet is cause for rejoicing.

“Happy women know that no one gets to be happy all the time,” according to What Happy Women Know, by Dan Baker, Ph.D, Cathy Greenberg, Ph.D, and Ina Yalof.  As Gretchen Rubin notes in her blog post, “Negative emotions are a key part of rational thought and effective performance. Also, up to a point, they can be of great service to happiness. They’re loud, flashy signs that something isn’t right. Because they’re so unpleasant, they can sometimes prod us to take action when nothing else can.” Negative emotions are a part of life—feel them, accept them, learn from them—then let them pass.

According to Dr. George E. Vaillant of Harvard Medical School, what seems to contribute most to happiness as we get older are the coping mechanisms we develop to handle the inevitable pain of life. Coping mechanisms like humor, a positive outlook, willingness to control anger and hostility, and treating others the way we’d like to be treated, help us avoid depression and foster connections with others—both of which make our lives more enjoyable.

This makes me…happy. I see that many factors contribute to a person’s happiness—factors we can control, and ordinary things that are likely already part of our daily lives. Happiness is waiting…we just need to recognize it.

What surprising thing makes you happy?