Discovering Happiness

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the highway to heaven is littered with suicide, addiction, anxiety and fear. Why is it so hard for us to find our heaven, nirvana, happiness, and serenity? Why do so many people fall by the wayside while trying so hard to find it?

“The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”

Eric Hoffer

We don’t find heaven, we don’t find nirvana, we don’t find happiness or serenity. They are not places that we can travel to, nor destinations or goals. How many of us seek a goal with the idea that happiness will come at a certain moment in the future. When I graduate I will be happy.’ ‘When I find the love of my life, I will be happy.’ ‘When I get the promotion, I will be happy.’ We look forward to a magical, mystical moment when, I don’t know, we think that the sky will open up and the bluebird of happiness will land on our shoulder. But that doesn’t happen. We graduate, get married and get the promotion and we do feel momentary happiness but then, it’s fleeting pause is over and we work for the next moment of happiness.

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There is also, of course, the obverse. Not everyone graduates, finds their soul mate or ever gets more than an entry level job. Are we living in a society where people will never attain a true feeling of Heaven on Earth? Is the seeking of that feeling of happiness the source of our own despair? When we reach a goal, we do feel that momentary jolt of ‘Yes, I did it’, which fades quickly. Like the wonder of Christmas fading before the week is out, we push toward the next ephemeral moment.

Perhaps our challenge is not to seek happiness. Perhaps what we need to do is to define what actually causes us to feel the emotion of happiness? What would give you not a momentary but a continued sense of wellbeing, contentment and serenity? Few people can answer that question. Sure, they can tell us that a party makes them happy, or a wedding or a birth; events and goals. They can tell us that being with other people and making them happy leads to happiness, but even this is an interim fix; what if they can’t make others happy? I don’t think happiness is a temporary state of excited emotional bliss, a goal or destination. Then what is it?

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Happiness is not something that we can seek. It is not something that we can do. We can’t pursue it. We can’t buy it. We can’t attain it. Nothing ‘makes’ us happy.

Happiness comes from within. I think that discovering our own happiness is the true purpose in life and our true measure of success. The recipe for happiness varies from person to person. It results from our choice to live a life that is congruent with one’s principles and beliefs. People who are happy focus on the people that they care about, the things that they value, a conducive environment and activities they enjoy. It requires self-discipline and effort to create it and maintain it within oneself. I don’t find happiness when I get my diploma or promotion; I feel it as a result of doing what I need to do to achieve those goals. I don’t find happiness when I make a certain amount of money or win the lottery; I experience happiness knowing that I am being true to myself and my the things that are important to me. I don’t find happiness by trying to control all of the variable that have a part in my life; I find it by focusing only on those things I have control over, and those things are within me. My attitude, my judgement, my actions, my choices and my perspective are all within my circle of control.

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Happiness is within my control as well, it follows. If I feel happiness, perhaps I can analyze why at this particular moment I feel it. I can pay attention to those things that result in feeling unhappy and maintain my distance in the future. If I know that I feel happiness when I take a walk by the ocean or through the woods, then why not do that more often? If sharing a deep conversation with a friend invigorates me and brings a smile to my face, then I should seek out times to have those conversations. I have to do the work. My answers won’t magically appear. But with time and practice I can make the right choices for me and my happiness.

Finding Nirvana, Shangri-La, or Heaven, as well as their opposites is a very Earthly proposition. Despite of all I do, I will sometimes feel fear, anxiety and suffering. But I don’t have to stay in that misery any longer than I wish to. I have a choice. I choose to be happy.