pursuit of happiness = oxymoron

experience addition

In the last few years, “happiness” has been a major publishing craze. A plethora of books, articles and blogs were obsessed with happy. Suggestions like:

  • surround yourself with happy people (who’s authentic and cheerful all the time?)
  • think happy thoughts (if only life were that easy)
  • walk in nature (of course)
  • drink red wine (xoxo)
  • go to church (hmmmm)
  • be with family (lots will cringe at this)
  • breathe deep (yup)
  • exercise (yes)
  • do fun things (sure)
  • get high (okay)

The trouble is many people do some or all of the above and happiness still eludes them. Maybe because happiness doesn’t exist. At least not in the way marketing tells us it does. The secret to happiness won’t be found in the striving for it.

In progressive circles, the “bucket list” trend—a checklist of non-ordinary things to get done before one dies—is quite popular, but I find it wearying. Lists help me organize my life but checking things off doesn’t make me happy. I know people who raise kids, have sex, travel and live with a mindset of ticking off an agenda. That’s not living as much as orchestrating.

Where’s the ‘being with?’ Where’s the sitting still? The reflection? Residing from the inside out?

Distracting oneself from ordinary life gives momentary pleasure but that’s not being in it. If bliss lies in what you do and where you go, then you’ll be chasing experiences all your life. A ‘geographical-new mate-new job’ cure is no better than a ‘heroin-Jack Daniels-cannabis-random hook-up’ cure. One’s just culturally faddish, less moralistic. However, it only seems like you’re moving toward happiness.

I’ve got nothing against big experiences but none of them have made me any happier than brushing my cats, working with clients, playing guitar, talking with friends, writing, cooking, weeding with my grandson, reading, hiking in big trees, lake swimming, sweeping, staring at clouds, drinking red wine, washing dishes.

Here’s the deal: When we get the new relationship/new city/house/dog/tool/job we feel great but not necessarily because we’ve gotten something or done whatever, but because—for that very fleeting minute—we’re free from desire.

True happiness isn’t so much about getting what we crave, it’s about appreciating what we already have. Bertrand Russell said: “To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

If you see your life as tedious and in need of ‘amusement,’ you aren’t in your life; you’re in the future and that future is the dangling carrot just out of reach of your ravenous mouth. Distractions are delusions of delight.

It’s the gorgeous journey not the destination that’s genuinely enjoyable.

So what will work?

  • Be where you are, as you are (like a toddler)—sorrowful, laughing, angry, singing
  • Enjoy bathing your baby as much as eating foccacia in Firenze—don’t value one over the other
  • Cultivate sincere depth of connection with others
  • View play and work as identical
  • Accept what is [see after ecstasy, the laundry]
  • Appreciate what you have
  • Inspiration over Stimulation
  • Quit trying to be happy

4 thoughts on “pursuit of happiness = oxymoron

  1. googled “neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering ~ carl jung”, and found your blog. i hope adding of a one more reader (me) won’t make you feel pressured to make more posts. thank you for your thoughts.


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