As a culture, we seem to be obsessed with chasing happiness.
Happiness has become our national and cultural icon (myself included!) Happy faces, inspiring stories, “Good News” lol, and the push for happiness follow us everywhere we go, in person and online. Sometimes, what we chase is elusive. Like a Zen koan, we might need to relax and allow happiness, rather than chasing it.
You might wonder why wanting happiness is bad. It’s not that I think happiness is a bad thing, but I think it might be better as a part of our lives, rather than such a dominant goal. We learn from challenges, suffering, selfless service and the “middle way” of many ancient traditions. And the latest research suggests that pursuing and over valuing happiness may actually chase it away.
Wanting only happiness is probably a trap. For more background on the paradox of chasing happiness, read this blog on happiness. Living a life of meaning is the real source of lasting satisfaction. Not the endless pursuit of happiness by having the right tools, toys, jobs, partners, etc. Spiritualists are right to remind us that happiness is an inside job, but do we really need to be happy all the time to have satisfying lives?
I don’t think so. I believe we need to embrace the full range of life and human emotions. There is beauty and benefit in all emotions (and life), if we have the eyes to find it. Much like the truck in the photo above, age, sadness, and rust all have their own kind of beauty if we aren’t defining it in limiting ways.
Ultimately, we need to create and pursue meaning to have truly satisfying lives. As I wrote in the linked post, it’s important to understand what is most important for us, especially our values, then set out to align our lives with those values and goals. That is the path to lasting happiness.
This post was inspired by a wonderful article on pursuing the middle path of simplicity, sustainability and moderation. Ragunath, his wife, Nisha Srinivasan, and son, Aum, have moved to rural India from Silicon Valley to live a simpler life aligned with their values. Their son is able to find and create meaning and joy; alone and seemingly without the things so many of us believe we need for happiness.
Ragunath Padmanabhan writes, we behave every moment of our lives as if our only aim is to avoid everything that would bring unhappiness and seek things that would bring happiness. The Art of Happiness has been lost perhaps because by chasing it, we have chased it away. The Art of Suffering has been lost perhaps because by running away from it we have tightened its knot on us.
I admire what he and his family have done. But even more, I agree with his perspective on happiness. Let’s not keep chasing happiness. Rather, let’s relax and allow the full range of life to be useful to us. Helping us to become multi-faceted beings of happiness, love, joy, sadness, anger and compassion. Allowing and embracing all these delightful energies to serve us, to grow and to become more available to the richness of life exactly as it is.
What are your thoughts on happiness?
To the beauty and richness of life as it is. Blessings, Brad