My resolution not to pursue happiness (or meaning)

Happiness – both its definition and the actual thing – eludes us. There are moments when I could practically swear that I’m happy but they are interspersed with many more complex experiences and feelings, not to mention that the happy moment itself is strewn with a complex mix of emotions.

Pursuing happiness is one of those things that someone somewhere came up with and everyone has run with it like our lives depend on it. And yet I would guess that Thomas Jefferson had no idea how unhappy pursuing happiness in its most general sense would make (hundreds of) millions of people.

Mainly, I think more than anything, it creates a feeling of entitlement for those who take it seriously. Most basically, “I deserve to be happy.” But beyond that, whatever every person or society thinks is that thing that ultimately makes people happy, is the thing they think they deserve.

There are many things in life that we cannot see or grasp if we look right at them. It almost seems as though they don’t exist when given too much attention – and maybe the truth is that they do disappear when directly looked at.

I think happiness is one of those things.

I, for one, am sick of the head space wasted on asking myself, “Am I happy? Am I content? Am I really doing what I want to be doing?” All these questions are good and to a large extent they really keep me on track, helping me make good decisions, but this is only the case as long as they aren’t visited too often and with me, they really are taking up too much head space. And too much of this meta thinking is pulling me down.

But here’s the thing. It isn’t exactly happiness that I’m pursuing. In my opinion, meaning = happiness. And meaning, a seemingly deeper goal than happiness, is of utmost importance to me, and that is what I’m in the pursuit of. The irony, like with the pursuit of happiness, is that I don’t give things a chance to be meaningful before I get scared that, alas, truly my life is meaningless.

Don’t get me wrong; I do belief that the real path to “happiness” – whatever that actually is – is through meaning, possibly more than anything else. But meaning needs its space and time. In other words, like happiness, it should not be given too much attention.

And so this year I want to say to myself: Deena, choose your path and go. Use your common sense and deal. Things don’t have to be working out “perfectly” in order to prove you’re headed in the right direction. Do what you want and need to do and let things happen. When life is hard, annoying, upsetting, frustrating, remember that that doesn’t necessarily prove anything is wrong. And so, don’t dwell on these difficulties which make you second guess yourself all the time. And, maybe most importantly, if things today feel mundane, don’t jump to the conclusion that your life lacks meaning.

Make decisions, make mistakes, make whatever you want and then continue on.

Because ultimately it will be perseverance, integrity and common sense that will lead to that content feeling – happiness? – we have when we see that what we did brought meaning to ourselves and to the world.

Photo by mokra


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