I was talking with my friend Stephen several weeks ago about life in general while we were grilling out. In our discussion the topic of happiness came up and both of us came to the same conclusion: people who set their goals around “being happy” are in for a frustrating life. I have spent more time kicking the idea around in my head and decided to put some thoughts down on paper.
The basic premise of our talk was that happiness is an emotion not a state of being and that striving to be happy as a life goal is futile. So that we are all working with the same understanding of happy, The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: feeling or showing joy or contentment.
Here is the problem I see with setting a goal to be happy. Happiness is an emotion and like all emotions they fluctuate according to many different variables. When I stated my belief that happiness as a goal is a futile endeavor , I liken it to shooting at a moving target. Each time you get going in the right direction the destination changes, thus leaving you driving yourself mad! This causes people to use up lots of energy and time and most often results in aggravation.
The next issue I have with setting happiness as a goal is it is nearly impossible to define. Seriously, what is happiness? What does it mean to be happy? It’s not just that the meaning of happiness changes from person to person, but our own understanding of happiness can change from moment to moment! What makes a person happy now very well may make them sad in a few months!
See, as an emotion, happiness is a temporary state never intended to be a long-term condition. Happiness occurs in specific moments when our brain releases serotonin in response to certain stimuli. It is impossible and impractical to live in a constant state of happiness. We experience sadness, fear, anger and happiness. Each of the 4 will jump in the front seat at certain times, serve their purpose, then return to the rear of the vehicle. Expecting happiness to always be present will always lead to frustration and disappointment!
All too often, people feel sad or angry or fearful and wonder what is wrong; why don’t I feel happy. Well you were not built to feel happy all the time.
In its place I think you should aim to be fulfilled. Oxford Dictionary defines being fulfilled as: being satisfied or happy because of fully developing one’s abilities or character. See the difference? Happiness is a byproduct of being fulfilled, not vice versa. So the question to ask oneself should be what will fulfill my life? What ability or character trait can I fully develop that will create in me a feeling of being satisfied or happy? Now we are on to something! The target just stopped moving and we have a clear, focused shot.
Now determining what will make you fulfilled is an entirely new conversation, but the process begins with deep introspection and contemplation. I will leave that for a different post.
Just a thought to get your day started off on the right foot!!