Tell me something, girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there something else you are searching for?
— Lady Gaga, “Shallow”
Let’s be honest here for a sec. Are you happy?
If you are — great for you. But judging from the amount of self-help books published each year and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on trainings, I guess most that of us aren’t.
Now, if you ask people what they want out of life, they’ll probably list 2–3 things. At the end they’ll say casually: “I want X, Y, Z, oh yeah, and I want to be happy too.”
But what is this thing — happiness that people are all striving for?
And are the people who are happy — have they achieved it themselves? Was that part of their strategy? Or were they born with it outright?
In my experience, people who say that their only goal is “to be happy” don’t know what they are talking about. They probably don’t know what happiness is, and they don’t really know what they want out of life. It’s lack of self-awareness.
Happiness is this fluffy thing that we all need to strive towards — and it’s pushed down our throats by media, 21-year-old ‘life-experts’ (ha-ha) and trainers alike.
When people say they want happiness, what they are really referring to is excitement. The uplifted feeling of intense joy in the moment, when you feel that everything is possible and you can do or be anything.
It’s easy to reach this state by doing 2 things:
- Getting as much positive feedback as possible through books, content, expensive trainings (Remember “The Secret” ?).
- You know, something along the lines of: “You can do this. You are meant to be great. We all are. Reach your inner strength and unleash the power within…”
- Feeling a false sense of control over your life.
- Doing self-development exercises, drawing a “map of your life”, writing a “scenario”, a “script”, making a “happiness tree”, what not. All of these things make you feel like God himself: you are literally writing your own life.
And as the world becomes more and more complicated, as we feel more and more out of control, we are chasing this ‘high’ with an increasing intensity.
Does all of this sound familiar? I hope it doesn’t.
Happiness is nothing more than a drug. An expensive, extremely addictive, well-marketed and socially accepted (!) drug.
In many ways, it’s worse than a lot of illegal drugs out there.
It’s scary. Instead of accepting the reality, we are better off living in our own illusions.
Instead of embracing our insecurities and vulnerabilities, we look for positive feedback and feeling of wholeness (i.e. having a “date with destiny”). Instead of accepting that the world is complex and nothing is certain, we look for a false sense of control through mental masturbation (i.e. drawing a “map of your life”).
Welcome to the Brave New World, where soma is called “happiness”.
Now, knowing this, should we just sit around and do nothing? Should we not strive toward happiness?
I believe that we should. Just keep in mind that happiness is not a fixed state of being.
Happiness comes in 2 forms: micro and macro.
Micro happiness — the feeling of being happy.
In other words, excitement. Being in a great mood, watching the sunset, eating delicious ice-cream, breathing fresh air, achieving our goals, being recognized — all of this is micro-happiness.
But looking only for it makes us addicts looking for the next high. It needs to be complemented with the macro part.
Macro happiness — the knowledge of being happy.
In other words, a sense of deep joy and fulfillment. This is a fundamental thing that doesn’t go away easily. Knowing that everything is going to be alright, having confidence in the future, being proud of yourself, of your work and loved ones — this is macro-happiness.
I believe that to be truly happy we need both of these.
But we need to be realistic, too.
Psychologists say that no emotional state can be perpetual. It has to change in a wave-like form: from ups to lows, and back, like a swinging pendulum (and actually, the more you swing the pendulum in one extreme, the harder it’ll kick back, so chasing the extreme high will inevitably lead to an extreme low).
Hence, happiness will inevitably be changed by sadness and it’s completely fine. Life is about both of these extremes. And, to be honest, there wouldn’t be happiness without sadness. One needs the other to exist.
True happiness comes not from working on it, but rather from letting go. Not chasing the “highs” and false sense of control, but from a deep understanding that it’s ok to “not be enough”.
It’s OK to feel negative emotions, to be insecure sometimes and to feel sad.
All of these things are part of life.
And they are beautiful — each in their own way.
So it’s OK to strive towards happiness. We need a direction in life, and looking for our own versions of micro and macro happiness is completely normal.
Just keep in mind that happiness is not a stable state of being (hence, we can’t actually achieve “happiness”, as it will always come and go).
Even the Declaration of Independence said each person has a “right to pursue happiness”, not a “right to always be happy”.