Happiness: Elusive or Illusive?

Happiness. It is a simple concept that every person would say they are familiar with and could explain to another person. Yet, in actuality, how many of us truly understand what the meaning of happiness really is? After all, is being happy simply a chemical reaction of feeling elated? If so, would one readily agree that putting everyone in a drug induced state be the equivalent of making everyone happy?

In “Don’t Indulge. Be Happy.,” Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton approach the whole notion of happiness from the idea that happiness is connected with money. They even bring up an interesting notion regarding how $75,000 is considered to be a comfortable salary. In many regards, I’m sure most of you would agree with that sentiment. After all, it’s difficult for most people to envision a “happy life” where they did not have the means to support themselves or buy the things they wanted.

Yet in reality, money ends up being a short term goal that society has informed us to chase like dogs on a racetrack. We are told that we should focus on getting “high paying jobs” so we can “afford” things that we want. In addition, we are told that we “need” to make a certain salary to survive in this world. After all, isn’t that why we all went to school? For the opportunity of making more money?

Although it can be a fantastic distraction that can serve as a motivator for some, the sole pursuit of the acquisition of money always ends in an empty life. And unless you have any evidence to the contrary, my research and experience in life has taught me that there is no lasting happiness to be found in money.

So we know that drug-induced highs and money isn’t what happiness is, but where does that leave us? Family? Friends? Career? Power? Politics? Self-actualization? Love?

After a great deal of thought and soul searching, I’ve been thinking that maybe there is no such thing as happiness.

Think about it. Happiness is entirely relative is it not? Let’s take the following example:

You and your team have just finished a big project for your company that you are really proud of. The next day, your boss comes into your office and congratulates you on a job well done and hands you a $50,000 check for doing such a great job.

I’m pretty sure most people would describe their current feeling as “happy” no? After all, there are some people who’s annual salary is that much!

Now ten minutes later, your fellow teammate comes in to inform you that the boss stopped by his office as well and gave him a $60,000 bonus check.

Wait a minute… that so called “happiness” probably faltered for a moment there didn’t it? In fact, if you are like most people, you may even have felt the completely reverse emotion. I mean after all, what did your teammate do that made him earn $10,000 more than you? Aren’t you worth it?

Within that short time frame, the thing so many call “happiness” becomes “jealousy” and even “anger” or “hatred.”

Curious no?

In that case, perhaps  it’s just that society’s portrayal of happiness is an entirely empty notion. And with that in mind, the conclusion I’ve managed to draw from my own experiences is the following:

True happiness is the ability to appreciate the present moment regardless of the conditions around us.

I know that this may seem downright crazy, but this is one concept that many people fail to grasp their entire lives. They spend all this time and energy trying to pursue this notion of happiness that society has defined to only end up never really getting to truly enjoy their lives. Think about it: perspective is everything. What seems amazing in one respect can be completely awful from a different perspective. Being able to grasp this can make all the difference in your life.

Orson Welles once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” Remember that no matter what tragic event has befallen you, it is not the end of your story. There is no telling when your story will end, but you would be selling yourself short if you were to choose your story to live out as a tragedy.

The time you have now is the best opportunity of all. There is no guarantee of tomorrow, and there is no way to change the past. The present is the only time you have complete control over, so stop letting that time pass you by any longer. After all, the grass isn’t greener on the other side. It’s greener where you water it.

Today’s post is inspired by Don’t Indulge. Be Happy. – NYTimes.com.

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8 responses to “Happiness: Elusive or Illusive?”

  1. melbryant says :

    I love this! I just got back from a meditation retreat and most of the focus (naturally) was on learning to be present. It is a new perspective for a culture entrenched in the “productivity is everything” mindset, where we spend most time thinking about what comes next.

    Thanks so much for the post!

  2. Josey Schwartz says :

    Good topic choice. I especially liked the last gem in the conclusion about the grass being greener where it’s watered. You’ve inspired me to write my next post on the subject—namely, utilitarianism. Great post Ben.

  3. jalal michael sabbagh says :

    Unique subject,very well handled.l wish you success.

  4. butterflyxwings says :

    Wow, this is really cool and wise! 🙂 And I think the feeling you are describing is joy. (The part where you talk about appreciating the present moment.) I have a Chinese missionary friend that taught Bible study to us every Tuesday morning and he said that happiness is temporary, but joy is everlasting. Joy is appreciating every moment, every lesson in life that you learn no matter if it’s a happy, sad, angry, jealous, etc. moment. I don’t know if that makes sense haha, but I do know I enjoyed this post.

    • Ben says :

      Interesting! I did think about using that term joy, but I feel that so many people don’t even know what that really is, so I wanted to stay within the realm of getting people to notice the present and not other things out of their control.

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