The Pursuit of Happiness Monster

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For sometime now I’ve been infatuated with the idea of the “Pursuit of Happiness” – the idea that there is a way to structure life to maximize for happiness. 

As I’ve mulled over this idea, read books, talked to others, took classes, observed friends I have become paralyzed.

Paralyzed by the complexity of how to organize life to maximize for happiness, as if it was some sort of mathematical problem to solve for. This belief that there is a singular solution, a singular path has prevented me from taking action in my life from hobbies, to relationships, to my career for fear that I would go too far down the ‘wrong’ path. As a result, I’ve spent far too long thinking about the solution and not enough time doing anything beyond that.

What I now know is that happiness doesn’t come from the next big project or adventure. It comes from the inside, from being here right now. No person, no activity can make you happy – happiness is something that is just there and is the under current of every activity in  life.

We so easily succumb to the idea that external events can cause you to feel happiness or sadness. The truth is that all emotions are all already within you – and that the events in your life awaken some of these emotions while leaving others dormant. Therefore, the goal is not to focus on the external circumstances which in many cases may lie beyond your control, but instead to focus on the inside where these emotions live.

I have been functioning under the belief that if I could control certain events in my life like relationships, career, travel etc.  I would obtain happiness. I treated life like a master optimization problem to be solved for, where I am maximizing for happiness through choosing a carefully selected portfolio of activities and priorities to cultivate what I thought would make a happy life.

I’ve recently come around to realizing that happiness isn’t a game that could be articulated and planned for – Having more friends, a better job, cool hobbies, more money doesn’t buy more happiness. The journey to this realization has come with some major costs – in my pursuit of happiness I de-prioritized the people that matter the most in my life, I distanced myself from beauty and passion in favor of ambition, and I lost at least one best friend along the way.

My pursuit of happiness has become a monster with an insatiable appetite – stealing time from the very things that I now think promotes flourishing in life – being present, friends, family, passion, interests, hobbies, culture, arts, pursuing something larger than oneself.

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