Isn’t the question really “what gives you meaning?” Happiness is so ephemeral.
Is a new mother happy with the pain of childbirth? No. And yet is she not fulfilled with the creation of life?
Or an artist who struggles for 20 years to create a piece that meets their own expectations. You have the eye before the skill, which is what is so frustrating. This is why we tear up our work. And delete entire photo shoots from our CF cards. Or rip the roll of film out of the Mamiya to expose it to light, killing it like a vampire thrown into daylight.
It is that our creation lacks fails to meet our vision. This is not happiness.
But do you want to live in a world where people, where you, don’t strive outside of your bounds? I don’t. I don’t need the happiness project. If I wanted that, there is some drug I can take surely. No, the brutal truth of reality, and frequently failed “creation,” is the reality I wish to live in. It gives meaning.
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 CatholicArmy 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.
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?
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.