Stop trying to be happy all the time
For some time now, people have become obsessed with the idea of being happy. This has led to a proliferation of books being written, money being spent and has perhaps contributed to our culture of instant gratification.
But has our pursuit of happiness actually made us any happier? Quite the opposite: American happiness is at a 10 year low (sorry Canadians– we’re no better) and anxiety, stress and depression are at an all time high.
A fantastic article by Emily Esfahani Smith exposes an ironic truth: the sole pursuit of happiness is preventing the happiness we are searching for. Rather, what we should be striving for is meaning.
“Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment …While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning. Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future.”
Pursuing happiness- doing things to make you feel good in the moment- is like having a shot of caffeine, a burst of momentary alertness. And then you need it again and again.
We cannot be happy all the time– this is true at work, with family and life in general and trying to or thinking that you can, makes it even harder to be happy.
People pursuing a meaningful life on the other hand, are not happy all the time, in fact their lives are often associated with stress and struggles. According to Smith’s research that’s in part because those who live a meaningful life are more likely to sacrifice themselves in the pursuit of helping people in need. They do this because they know they are working towards a greater purpose- something bigger than the self.
So if you really want to be happy in the long run, aim to live a more meaningful and purpose driven life. For example start by volunteering or donating to charity, or finding a job that is working towards a greater purpose.
Recognize and acknowledge that being meaningful won’t feel good all the time, know that your work will be hard, messy and require effort, but in the long run you will be rewarded with a higher satisfaction in life. And perhaps most importantly, a reason to be happy.
Go ahead, be meaningful. I dare you.