On Happiness

June 19, 2013 6:21 pm

What is this ‘happiness’ that we want?

The pursuit of happiness is an ‘unalienable right’, as the Declaration of Independence states. But how do we pursue it? And why do we see oppression every way we turn,  and see depression all around us?

Let’s look at what happens when we buy things. This is often how we choose to pursue happiness. Buying that shiny new laptop would make us happy, at least we think.

Yet it never quite lives up to its billing, does it? We’ll take our fancy new MacBook home, and we’d open it, turn it on. That Mac boot-up noise goes off and we’d be excited. But that doesn’t last. We soon realise that the new MacBook works almost exactly like the old one. Maybe the design’s changed, maybe it got quicker, but we do the same things with it. We write our essays with the same programs, we go to the same websites. It’s a computer, and it works along the same principles as all the other computers we’ve previously owned.

So we’re disappointed, maybe a little sad, definitely poorer. Why?

A lot of people have said that if we want true happiness, we shouldn’t chase material things. What they don’t tell you is how else to go about it. If we aren’t chasing status, money, grades, what is the pursuit? How can we stand next to a millionaire and claim we are any happier than they are when we own nothing?

Think back to the happy moments in your life. Chances are you were engaged in an activity you enjoy. Say you’ve set a new personal best in the pool, or you’re in really good company and the conversation is flowing. In the moment, when you’re trying to get to the wall, or when you’re giving and receiving as best you could in a conversation, who, what, and where you are ceases to exist. ‘You’, as an entity, or even a concept, disappear. You are selfless. 

We reflect on these moments, as we are, and we realise we’re happy. That happiness carries on for a few hours, or days, or weeks, but it inevitably disappears, leaving you with a happiness-sized hole, and we go out seeking a new PB, or a new conversation. We become selfish again.

Maybe we need a change in how we approach happiness. Instead of pursuing it in outer space, maybe it’s something we could find in our inner space. Maybe happiness isn’t unfathomable emotional heights, but a tranquil and peaceful state of mind. Instead of chasing after happiness, maybe we could be happy instead.

Maybe being happy isn’t about the positives. Imagine it as a forest. There is a natural food chain, within which you find ‘good’ animals and ‘bad’ animals. Maybe you hate spiders, so they’re ‘bad’, and maybe you like chimps, so they’re ‘good’. You can’t have too much of the bad, because the spiders will (probably) take over. But you can’t have too many chimps either, no matter how much you love them, because chimps will run a-mock and ruin everything. If there is no balance, no moderation, the forest ceases to be.

It’s the same with happiness. There is no happiness without the good and the bad, just as there is no forest without spiders and chimps. So what can we do?

With a forest, we leave it be. We let nature take over, or rather, put it back into the driver’s seat. We don’t chop down all the trees, or kill all the spiders, or introduce new chimps. In some mysterious way, the forest will figure it out. We appreciate its beauty and let it be.

Can we do the same with happiness? Instead of trying to drive out all negative thoughts and introduce positive ones, maybe we should just let them be. Instead of chasing after it, trying to mold it, maybe we should just step back and observe it. If nature, undisturbed, has found a way to regulate itself, maybe our subconscious mind could too.

When we come across a happy person, we feel it. Happiness seems to emanate from them. In much the same way, we don’t see a forest by counting its trees or its animals, we just know when we see one.

There is no pursuit of happiness, only a discovery of it. To truly find happiness, we need to step back and contemplate, to become familiar with the entirety of it. When we do so regularly, the details fade, and we lose ourselves in it.

The forest becomes us, and us the forest.

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