One reason to give up the pursuit of happiness

There’s been lots of talk about happiness in various circles over the past few years. Which countries have the most of it? How did they get there? How can WE get there and get a slice of the good life too?

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with being happy! However, the road to happiness may not be what we would expect it to be, it may even be directionally backwards to what we would assume. As it turns our, the mere phrasing of the statement “pursuit of happiness” is self-defeating. Consider this statement by psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

It would seem from the above that if we make happiness our target we might miss it completely. So, what does this leave us with?

Let me suggest that contentment may serve us better than the pursuit of happiness. The vast majority of us have an excess of all that we thought would make us happy, and yet our mental health continues to deteriorate.

What might happen if we shifted our focus as Frankl suggests? What if we take a bold and courageous step to lay aside the notion that somehow the universe owed us happiness, or that we should drive ourselves to pursue it, and rather invest ourselves in meaningful work and loving relationships – both, as Frankl suggests, are outside of our self – to put others first.

If it is more blessed to give than receive, and if the pursuit of more suffers from the law of diminishing returns, it would seem that this might be a reasonable path to take.

Take this thought with you into the weekend with one small step down a new path.