The Dangerous Pursuit of Happiness
We may have wandered away from an ancient definition of the word ‘Happy’, which is ‘good fortune’ or ‘good luck’. We can easily see that the ancients attributed the occurrence of happiness to the gods. To suggest happiness can be pursued by us yanks the power and responsibility out of the hands of the gods and places our will in the managerial position.
Once we are in charge of making happiness happen, there are several dangerous implications.
• The first is the extremely seductive maneuver of making happiness a feel good experience by defining it as pleasure, joy or excitement.
• The pursuit of happiness under the pleasure principle can easily distract us from living life on life’s term. Life’s terms include everything out of our control such as the arduous tasks of dealing with loss, coping with pain and suffering and the choices of others.
• Attempting to live life mostly on our terms tends to arrest our emotional development, placing us in an adolescent holding pattern as we avoid life’s larger issues.
• The resolve needed to create meaningful and enduring relationship easily erodes under the mandate of happiness as pleasure. Creating depth and meaning will likely not be mostly fun as depicted in the following quote by the Swiss Analyst, Adolf Guggenbuhl – Craig. “A writer creates meaningful works does not want to become happy, he wants to be creative. Likewise married people can seldom enjoy happy, harmonious marriage, as psychologists would force it upon them and lead them to believe. The image of the “happy marriage” causes great harm.”
• It is easy to begin lying to others and ourselves about feeling overwhelmed, lost, anxious and sad. These less than fulfilling experiences indicate a failure to be happy, which can translate into a failure to live right.
• It becomes easier to slip into the delusion that life is not mysterious and insecure. To accept life on those terms would definitely make the pursuit of happiness silly and impossible to live in ecstatic bliss.
An important question becomes: What can be reasonably pursued? I would suggest seeking what I call The Seven Pursuables.
• Leading a self-examining life accompanied by compassion for what we discover about ourselves.
• Remain devotionally self-responsible as we explain our lives as the result of our choices and not the result of what others do or don’t do.
• Committed to living in integrity where what we value is integrated into the actions we undertake. Julie came to me explaining her predicament of being in a marriage she appreciated, yet having fallen in love with a co-worker. She decided that pursuing a romantic involvement with the co-worker was incompatible with her values. She proceeded to call off any social contact with the co-worker before it became more involved. I asked her if she was happy about her choice. She replied, “Happy, no I’m not happy. I have a broken heart. However, I am at peace with myself.”
• We can devote ourselves to living authentically where we speak what is true for us accompanied by compassion for the listener.
• We continue to learn what is in our control and what is not, learning to accept the helplessness regarding what is out of our control and learning to let go.
• Remaining devotional to live with gratitude and generosity.
• Living curiously about what life is asking of us, refusing to define ourselves as victims of life.
Theses Seven Pursuables will likely not produce ecstatic states. If we are willing to return to the ancient meaning of the word ‘happy’, we can give thanks for the equanimity coming to us because of the good fortune granted to us by the gods.