Is it Realistic to Expect Happiness?
Everyone wants to be happy…don’t you? “I just want to be happy” is probably the number one answer to the question, “What do you want out of life”?
The pursuit of happiness is a phrase with which we are all familiar.
It is part of a longer phrase in the Declaration of Independence which states that we are all endowed with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the USA we are all free to look for happiness anywhere we wish.
The problem however is that many people are generally dissatisfied and unhappy in their pursuit. They seem to be chasing or searching for this thing called happiness in all the wrong places.
The Happiness Equation
It appears that a great many people are unhappy with themselves and what they have. According to a 2017 Harris Poll Survey of American Happiness only 33% said they were happy. That equates to 67% being unhappy!
For them, no matter what they have or have achieved there remains a nagging desire for something more. If having more is a main component for achieving happiness than the race will never be won because it will never be over!
The seductive idea that if only you could be richer, taller, slimmer, stronger, smarter, faster, funnier, or look sexier you would then be happy, is the type of myth many people buy into. It is the kind of mindset that can cause one to disregard the positives in the present for the fantasy of what the future may offer.
Let’s start with this: Happiness, like any emotion, is never constant but will likely come and go as will boredom and dissatisfaction.
Happiness is a state of being content, in good cheer and generally experiencing feelings of optimism. It is a state of mind which ebbs and flows and has highs and lows.
Most people can feel happy for at least a short period of time.
Unless a person is clinically depressed, having feelings of sadness, upset, discontent or anxiety are all part of the human condition. Humans can experience the whole spectrum of emotions and can do so depending upon the circumstances in our lives at the time.
Despite this fact we are driven to believe that we have a “right” to be happy; as if someone or something oversees all the happiness in the world and is keeping it from us.
We seem to believe that finding happiness requires great effort but are not sure how or where to acquire it. It is as though happiness can somehow be collected, like a trophy.
The Search for Happiness
Some of us believe that finding happiness is akin to having some great epiphany or religious experience…a great white light enters your body and suddenly you are at last happy! Therefore we search frenetically to find it, hoping for some type of powerful, amazing and magical experience.
We look for the experience of a lifetime hoping that it will bring us happiness.
We buy faster cars, eat at fancier restaurants, search for the “perfect” love partner, purchase more expensive clothes, use mind altering drugs, take more extravagant vacations, all in the hope that having or doing more will bring more happiness.
Our society has shown every sign of having placed greater value on not being satisfied with what we have and therefore always wanting more. The emphasis we place on getting more creates an atmosphere of low-level dissatisfaction in having less.
Therefore, despite what we do we are always in a somewhat quiet state of unhappiness, disharmony or sadness.
Unless we can find peace in “just being” (some achieve in the practice of meditation, prayer or some other form of mindfulness) we are always going to feel that we are at the lower end of the happiness continuum, feeling restlessness and discontent.
Can a relationship make you happy?
Although bad relationships can make people miserable, good relationships have been found to make both partners generally happier than when they were alone. However, if you start out being cranky, nasty or generally miserable, don’t expect someone else to suddenly change you!
In the past, several studies and many articles have been written indicating that married partners were not just happier but also healthier than their single counterparts. However, more recent studies have questioned that premise.
What is clear is that if you want to be happy you must first start looking within yourself.
The Human Experience and Happiness
The idea that all humans experience ups and downs sounds elementary but some in the self-help, self-growth, happiness industry would have you believe otherwise (at least that is the impression one gets).
They want you to believe that you “should’ be happy. That it is your right, you deserve it and if you try hard enough you will have it. The problem is that the more you “try” to be happy the more likely it is that you will feel miserable when you don’t get that WOW experience.
We live in a world where, unlike our ancestors, most of our basic needs are met. We no longer need to focus on hunting for food and fending off predators (maybe creditors, but not predators).
We would probably be better off if we were able to just sit back and say, “We have most of what we need and we feel pretty happy about it” but instead we are driven by the need for more.
Anyone who has had the simple pleasure of looking at the ocean, spending time with loved ones, reading a good book or enjoying a beautiful day knows what it feels like to be happy.
There is no mystery to knowing happiness, it is available any time you want it. The myth is to think that it can only be achieved through making an expensive purchase, winning the lottery, finding your soulmate, or taking some great trek through the universe.
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About the Author
Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and Life Coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He works with individuals, couples and business partners helping them to resolve conflict, stay positive and create great relationships.