It can easily be argued that every decision a person makes is in the pursuit of happiness. You might say, “Wait a minute. I go to a job I hate every day just so I can pay my bills and barely survive.” True, but you really think that going to that miserable job will leave you happier than staying home and losing the ability to pay your bills.
The need to be happy drives everyone, but people pursue happiness through different means. Some believe they’ll be happy if they can only amass a large enough fortune. Others believe they’ll be happy by helping others. Some pursue a family, while other believe the freedom of staying single provides a better opportunity for happiness.
An investment banker and a Buddhist monk are still pursuing the same thing, only in dramatically different ways.
“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”
Can you make yourself happy on purpose? Can you pursue happiness and capture it like a child chasing a firefly? Science says “no.”
Find happiness without pursuing happiness:
1. Avoid overestimating the effect of your circumstances on your happiness. Even a perfect relationship and perfect job can become a grind after the newness wears off. You don’t need to live in the perfect location or have the ideal career to be happy. Nothing is perfect all the time.
- Studies show that people with modest incomes and possessions can be just as happy as the wealthy. There are happy and miserable people in the US, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and everywhere else in the world.
- There are happy and miserable doctors, clowns, homeless people, Christians, Jews, Muslims, tall people, short people, men, and women.
2. Searching for strong emotions. Studies find that the happiest people are moderately happy on a regular basis. The frequency of positive emotions is much more important for happiness than the intensity of the emotions.
3. Focusing on happiness leads to misery. Several scientific studies have shown that when subjects focused on happiness, they reported feeling lonely and depressed. Searching for happiness is a singular, perhaps even selfish, activity. Putting too much of your attention on yourself results in lowered mental health.
- Keep your attention on others if you want to be happy. It’s hard to be happy if you spend a lot of time alone.
4. Gratitude is an important component of happiness. If you have a lot to be grateful for, you’ll naturally be happy, too. Make gratitude a habit. Ask yourself what you’re grateful for several times each day.
- Set up trigger points, such as when you take a shower, put on your shoes, start your car, walk into your place of work, take off your shoes, and get into bed. These are just a few ideas. Think about your own life. What are your current morning and evening routines? Use those routines to remind you to be grateful.
Happiness is the goal, but it can’t be pursued. It just happens when you’re living your life. A few good friends, the right mindset, and gratitude are all the intelligent person requires to have a happy life. Live your life per your values. Following your values might not make you happy, but it will help to avoid being unhappy.
There’s no reason to put off being happy until you’re married, make six figures, or climb Mount Everest. Choose to be happy now.
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