The problem with pursuing happiness

Happiness is simply an emotion that arises from events external to us. When we get, achieve or do something we desire, we experience happiness.

Happiness is a pleasurable part of life, but the thing about happiness is that it almost always fades with time.

Well-being, on the other hand, is so much more than a single emotion. It is a construct that attempts to describe a life in which we flourish and thrive. Well-being includes the experience of positive emotions like joy, hope and love. But well-being also arises from:

  • growing as a person and accomplishing our goals,
  • pursuing challenging work that leverages our strengths,
  • developing deep and meaningful connections with others, and
  • giving back to them and the world in order to cultivate greater meaning and purpose within our lives.

The thing to remember is that if well-being describes the goal, happiness is usually not the path.

Rather, the path often involves hard work, failure, sacrifice, pain, risk, sadness, ridicule and heartbreak. These are almost always the prerequisites required for the personal growth, connection and meaning that allows for us to truly flourish and thrive.

Sometimes, it’s not about pursuing happiness or avoiding distress. It’s about learning to embrace the diversity of human emotional experience that comes with living the good life.

[Notes: i. Long-term happiness is defined and measured in the literature as life satisfaction. This too is more than a single emotion, and there are some ways to reliably increase life satisfaction, one which I have already mentioned. I discuss the others in future posts.

ii. The purpose of my blog is indeed to cultivate good health and well-being, which very much includes life-satisfaction, but also more. The use of the word happiness appears in my blog outline and numerous other posts as a substitute for well-being or life satisfaction, for simplicity’s sake.]

One response

  1. Pingback: How to deal with difficult emotions « The Mind and Body Coach

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