Chasing Happiness Away?

As a culture, we seem to be obsessed with chasing happiness.

The Happiness Trap

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

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17 thoughts on “Chasing Happiness Away?

  1. I think that you are right about chasing happiness. For me, I think of it as contentment. I am content in my life. I continue growing but I am content in my growth and I am not always running towards something elusive. I hope that makes sense. 🙂

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    • Hi Mantha. Yes it makes sense. Congrats on being content. That’s a wonderful way to live. I still bounce between contentment and desire, but getting better as I align my life with what is important to me. Thanks for visiting and commenting. Brad

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  2. Very well said, Brad! I totally agree with the need to embrace the full range of human emotions. If I had never known sadness, I don’t think I would feel such gratitude for happiness. Also, it is through the most painful times, that I have grown the most. Lately I have become aware that no matter what is going on in my life, or what emotions I am feeling, underneath all of that is a deep happiness. It is unchanging. A knowing that whatever I am experiencing is for my greatest good. I don’t know if that makes sense, either. 🙂 It’s hard to explain. Thanks for writing!!

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    • Thanks Suzie, The contrast helps me appreciate the highs, plus I’ve learned and grown from the challenges. How awesome to be in touch with a deeper contentment that stays regardless of the surface waves. Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

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  3. “No wonder we eat but we starve; we have more of everything and feel empty; we can do everything super-fast and yet do not have enough time for anything. All the secrets of everyday happiness – hard work, honesty, grit, grace, patience, wonderment, contentment, romance, even innocence”
    I love both of these lines! The second one really resonates though. Many seek a happy pill/instant gratification but don’t want to put in the work — like focusing on the wedding day and never investing that much energy/effort/time in the relationship again. Doesn’t work. So they divorce, rinse, and repeat…
    Thanks for this thought-provoking share!! 🙂

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  4. Your’re welcome and welcome back my friend. My blog and I missed you, but glad you had a great vacation and digital holiday too!

    I agree with you on doing the work. I’m still learning that one. It’s a tricky balance between wanting happiness, doing something about it, but not being attached to having it. Happiness seems to be more a byproduct than a goal.

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  5. I don’t always take the time to respond to your posts, but I enjoy them and wanted to respond to this one. Having trouble finding the right words to express myself, I read the other comments first. I’m not always particularly eloquent, so I’ll just conclude by saying that I found myself saying “Yes, that’s it!” to most of what the others said. Thanks for the post.

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  6. In my humble opinion, happiness comes in many forms and it is a choice… No matter what is happening in our lives, we chose to be in a state of happiness or sadness…It is within us and not found in external stuff/things…

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  7. Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned by so many factors to believe we need to “be, do, or have” something more, to be happy. A new car. A bigger house. More clients. More money. New clothes. A more successful business. More freedom. The list is long. The result is we spend our lives chasing these things and believing when we just get there life will be bliss.

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  8. You mentioned the need to create meaning in our lives as a way to “find” happiness. I think that’s key. If one’s busy doing the things that serve our deepest values — creating beauty maybe or developing a cure for cancer or helping someone less fortunate — the question of whether I’m happy or not rarely comes up.

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    • Hi Faith, thanks for visiting my blog. I find that when I’m helping others or doing things that I truly value, meaning is inherent and happiness really isn’t a consideration. Maybe the saints and gurus who encourage us to focus on helping others have it right.

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  9. I suspect you’re correct. I’ve just been reading Richard Layard’s book HAPPINESS in which he talks about the studies on happiness. They reveal just what we thought. Helping others and doing “good” lead to more happiness.

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      • For people like me, the conclusions of his research seem pretty obvious, but his argument is that the economists have been saying forever that you can’t tell what people are feeling, so you have to assume more money will make everybody happier. The research provides him some standing, I guess, to say there are things that are more important to happiness.

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