Ask almost anyone what they want for their life, and more often than not the answer boils down to some version of “I just want to be happy.” In fact, we do all the things we do because we believe it will ultimately make us happy.
The word happiness is derived from the Greek “Hap” which means by chance or luck. But somewhere through the generations, we have adopted as truth, the notion that happiness is our natural default state and quite incorrectly believe if we are not happy, there must be something wrong with us.
But consider this – what if it is our desire for happiness that is actually the cause of our own unhappiness? It’s quite the paradox.
In his book, The Happiness Trap, Dr Russ Harris poses the paradox and explores three intriguing questions:
- What if everything you believe about finding happiness turned out to inaccurate, misleading and false?
- What if those beliefs were making you miserable?
- What if your efforts to find happiness were actually preventing you from achieving it?
It is well worth the read.
(These are great questions to ponder for yourself.)
ARE WE HAPPY?
In a recent blog I posted that in 2017 the World Health Organizations ranked depression as the 3rd leading cause of non-fatal health concerns world wide. I’ve even heard that it has moved up to first place in the ranking over headache disorders and low back pain.
But even more concerning, the number of people suffering from clinical depression has surpassed the number of people with heart disease as well as the number of individuals diagnosed with cancer (podcast Impact Theory with Dr Susan David – July 2020).
Dr Harris sites some very sobering statistics as pertains to the US population:
- at any given time 1/10th of the adult population is suffering from clinical depression;
- 1 in 5 will have clinical depression at some point in their life;
- 1 in 2 people will consider suicide at some point in their life;
- and 1 in 10 people actually attempt it.
WHOA! Happiness is more elusive than we think.
THE PROBLEM WITH HAPPINESS
Life is full of ‘stuff’ that creates suffering. Without suffering there would be no joy, just as without dark there would be no light. Without the contrasts in life, our existence would be mundane.
What if it is just as normal to feel unhappy as it is to feel happy?
In her book Emotional Agility, Dr Susan David argues that our emotions, neither good nor bad – are just emotions we experience. She discusses the tyranny of positive thinking – “…trying to change them from negative to positive is an almost surefire way to feel worse.” A surefire way to feel worse. We cannot simply switch I love chocolate to I hate chocolate in our effort to minimize sweets. We cannot trick our brain that way, it knows it’s a lie.
A negative feeling – such as feeling unhappy – is telling us something is up. Feelings, positive or negative, provide us with information about something important in our lives. Think about it, if you do not care about something, you do not get upset about it. Though it may be tragic that the Rhino at the local zoo is having difficulty conceiving while living in captivity, you probably will not have many sleepless nights over it. (Unless you are the zookeeper).
So, negative feelings give us loads of important information, often related to our underlying values, whether we have identified those values clearly or not. Negative feeling let us know when we are out of alignment with our authentic selves.
Perhaps we should pay closer attention!
SKIP THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS… PURSUE FULFILLMENT INSTEAD
Since the pursuit of happiness seems to be an ineffective route to happiness, perhaps its time to shift focus.
Both Dr Harris and Dr David recommend the pursuit of fulfillment, meaning or purpose in our life (the subject of another blog). And in that pursuit, perhaps – just perhaps, happiness will ‘hap’ along as a most welcome feeling.
Have a fantastic week!
Live Life, Love Life, Always