The United States was founded on the principle that we all have the right to pursuit happiness. And so we have been pursuing happiness, with all our might, but do we really ever get there?
Invariably, people always say “to be happy” when I ask them what they want in the future…what they want to work on in treatment. So I have to ask, “But what does that mean? What is happiness? What makes you happy?” When I ask them to elaborate on their visions of life and what would make them happy, the answer of what happiness means to them become clearer. Time with family, health and financial stability, mental wellness, and so forth.
If you do a google search on “how to be happy” you will get a lot of hits. There are tons of articles and blogs out there that tell you what to do to be happy and what happy people do to be happy. There are a million (ok, I exaggerate) tips that people have given on ways to be happy: don’t hold grudges, dream big, don’t sweat the small stuff. The list goes on and on- if you do X, Y, and Z, you’ll be happy. But honestly, if it were that easy, we’d all be happy, right?
In the documentary “Project Happiness” (you can find it on Netflix), George Lucas describes his version of happiness: a combination of pleasure and joy. He states:
“…Happiness is pleasure and happiness is joy. It can be either one, you add them up and it can be the uber category of happiness. Pleasure is short lived. It lasts an hour, it lasts a minute, it lasts a month. And it peaks and it goes down. It peaks very high. But the next time you want to get that same peak you have to do it twice as much. It’s like drugs, you have to keep doing it because it insulates itself. No matter what it is, weather you’re shopping, or weather you’re engaged in any other kind of pleasure. It all has the same quality about it. On the other hand is joy and joy is the thing that doesn’t go as high as pleasure, in terms of your emotional reaction. But it stays with you. Joy is something you can recall, pleasure you can’t. So the secret is that even though it’s not as intense as pleasure the joy will last you a lot longer. And people who get the pleasure they keep saying “well if can just get richer and get more cars.” You’ll never re-live the moment you got your first car, that’s it that’s the highest peak. Yes, you could get three ferrari’s and a new gulf stream jet and maybe you’ll get close. But, you have to keep going and eventually you’ll run out. And you just can’t do it, it doesn’t work. If you’re trying to sustain that level of peak pleasure, you’re doomed. It’s a very American idea, but it just can’t happen. You just let it go…pleasure is fun it’s great, but you can’t keep it going forever. Just accept the fact that it’s here and it’s gone, and maybe again it’ll come back and you’ll get to enjoy it again. Joy lasts forever. Pleasure is purely self-centered. It’s all about your pleasure, it’s about you. It’s a selfish self-centered emotion, that’s created by self-centered motive of greed. Joy is compassion, joy is giving yourself to somebody else or something else. And it’s the kind of thing that is in it’s subtly and lowness more powerful than pleasure. If you get hung up on pleasure you’re doomed. If you pursue joy you will find everlasting happiness.”
As George Lucas alludes to, it seems to be a Western/American value to seek material things (e.g., big home, flashy car, etc.) thinking that those things will make them happy. Additionally, it seems that most people I’ve worked with are hell-bent on NOT experiencing anything perceived as negative, such as sadness, anger, anxiety, or feel uncomfortable. They get stuck in this elusive chase of trying to find “happiness” and avoiding “negative” emotions and experiences at all costs. In the more extreme cases, it’s lead to substance abuse and dependence, loss of work, family, and other relationships.
This is my own stance: happiness is like an emotion, like sadness, anger, and so on. Emotions come and go, rise and fall, and are sometimes more intense at times than others. As human beings, we are not one-dimensional or robots: so why try to always “be positive” and “choose to be happy”? Being human means to experience a range of emotions and experiences. To me, what matters more is find things and life experiences that bring richness, value, and meaning to your life. When you are engaged in things that matter to you, doing things in ways that are authentic to who you are, then you will feel more fulfilled and satisfied, regardless or how much money you might have or “success” you might obtain. When you stop avoiding things that previously scared you or made you uncomfortable, opportunities will open up for you.
Have you ever found yourself stuck in the chase for happiness? Are there things that you’ve avoided that’s kept you stuck from living the life you want to live? What activities/things would bring value and meaning to your life?