ARCHIVE POST. PLEASE COMMENT ON THE ORIGINAL ON CHRON.
Several friends of mine over the last few years have talked a lot about “seeking happiness” and the goal of “being happy”. Some even have “happiness projects.” I am reminded that America’s liberties include the right to “the pursuit of happiness.”
Yet there is something about the pursuit of happiness as an end goal that bothers me. I find the pursuit of happiness alone to be shallow — I don’t think it makes you happy long term.
Money doesn’t bring happiness. Tiger Woods is worth close to a billion dollars, is married to a Scandinavian swimsuit model, and yet he still felt the need to sleep with an assortment of cocktail waitresses so that he could feel better about himself.
Yes we all need money. We are capitalists as a country. We earn money. Is money the motivator? Not for me beyond a certain point. It’s this internal drive. I don’t think I will ever show up at work without a fire in my belly and a drive to accomplish MORE. You take risks so you sometimes fail. When you fail you are unhappy. You get back up. That’s how it works.
I can’t be described as walking around in “a state of happiness.” I am much more wound up than that. But my life has meaning because I take care of my family, which in turn makes me feel happy. I have surrounded myself with intriguing people who I deeply care about. My relationship with God is conflicted, but that is hardly surprising for a Catholic Army Brat. My relationship with my kids could be better, but in my defense they are called teenagers for a reason. I am approaching my 20th wedding anniversary which we will celebrate in style. I could work out more, but I do work out. I am working on all of those things. They are meaningful and they require hard work. I have a damn good life, but what I am not is running around completely happy all of the time.
My real issue is that I believe “the pursuit of happiness” is misguided and superficial as an goal.
Yes I said it. It’s shallow, people. We should seek meaning. If you seek meaning then happiness may, or may not, follow. There are no guarantees. But to flip it around and seek happiness first simply doesn’t work. Without first forming a clear idea of what you find meaningful and worthwhile, chasing “happiness” is like chasing a figment of your imagination. You will find the proverbial cart, and then abandon it after a day or two when you realize there is no horse attached and it’s useless.
Seeking happiness as the end goal leads you to wander the desert until you find the NEXT bright shiny object. This again makes you happy. Briefly. But unless you load it up with pirated Plato and talk about it, it won’t bring happiness either, as the it is just a thing.
How many marriages fail because someone says “I am just not happy” as if marriage is supposed to be 100% happy? And are these folks reading interesting books, talking about them, and seeking the meaning in life?
Yes clean out your closet if that makes you happy. But please let us not discuss your closet cleaning as meaningful conversation or life changing. Particularly lets not talk about the closet when our education system has eliminated shop class and our partisan politicians on both sides are putting their political parties over the people they represent. There are meaningful big questions to consider.
It turns out I am not alone that meaning is more important than happiness alone. Sunday’s Chronicle has a post titled Seeking happiness? Think big thoughts by Robert Zaretsky. It begins:
A recent study finds what we all once knew before our hectic lives made us forget: that like good barbecue or prime crude, the making of happiness takes time. Time enough, and world enough with others.
According to Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, individuals who spend more of their time wondering about big questions, and doing so in the company of others, are happierthan those who wonder about the weather or John Edwards’ love child.
Don’t worry, be happy. I have nothing against happy LOLcats and sports talk. They are great conversation starters. Deep meaningful questions can be derived from them. I enjoy these diversions. But they don’t bring happiness in and of themselves. Fewer hours at work to give me more time to read LOLCats will not in fact make me happier. Yet contemplating with friends what deep psychological need is met by Internet memes may in fact make us happier. Meaning may help you avoid the quarter-life-crisis.
Others are free to seek happiness as a goal even if I don’t think that is a worthy goal in and of itself. As for me I will continue to seek meaning with my family and friends. I may not get there, I may not find the meaning of life, but it takes time, and seeking meaning is proven a better path than seeking happiness alone. And I intend to enjoy the thoughts and the journey of life.
I’ll leave you with a video from my friend Aaron who had it posted on his blog after Hurricane Ike. It’s his girls at the beach at his parents old beach house on bolivar. The video has meaning. And it makes you happy too.