If I asked you, “are you happy?”, how would you answer? Would you simply say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or would you respond with a question of your own? Perhaps, you’d ask back, “Happy right this minute, or all the time?”
Right this minute, one might feel happy — especially while reading such a thought-provoking blog post! (kidding) 😉 But when you reflect on a larger span of time – a day or a month, the answer would likely change.
Perhaps we need to first define happiness. We need to decide if it’s an emotion or a state of being. The dictionary would say it’s a ‘state of being’, but I’m not so sure. Emotions come and go, but I imagine a state of being is like our homeostasis. It’s who we are at our core, and while we can alter it slightly through repetition, it is difficult to change.
So let’s pretend for a moment happiness is NOT a state of being, but instead just a temporary emotion. How would you measure overall happiness? Is it the sum of many happy moments? Do enough happy moments in a span of time add up to a ‘happy person’? Or is it a balance of happy vs sad, bad, and neutral moments?
And while we’re thinking mathematically, perhaps life starts smack dab on zero, with +infinity happiness in one direction, and –infinity happiness in the other. And every action nudges us in a direction on the endless measuring stick of happiness. One tough year full of ‘bad moments’ could really throw off where we land. How do you dig your way out of that?
And what happens if you’re a ‘naturally happy or positive person’? One might call you optimistic. If you lean optimistic, does your imaginary measuring stick lean positive too – making every happy moment ‘worth more’? What if you’re pessimistic?
I ask all of these questions because the world seems to be obsessed with finding and maintaining happiness, and I don’t agree with it. I believe in contentment instead. One might argue they are one in the same, but it’s all about perspective. If you strive for contentment – balance – instead of the high of happiness, you free your mind to focus on living a more meaningful life, not a life in pursuit.
Let me explain: when every day – every thought – is centered around what you THINK will bring happiness, you’ll quickly find that it’s never enough. This is because after having a happy moment, our brains must come back down to our homeostasis (our natural state of being). If we trick our brains over and over that these temporary ‘happy moments’ (such as eating at a restaurant, getting new furniture or clothes, or vacationing), are how we’re always supposed to feel, then coming back to our homeostasis may begin to feel like a loss… Thus triggering us to pursue MORE feelings of happiness.
This wouldn’t be so bad, if not for three things:
The pursuit of happiness is expensive, time-consuming, and exhausting. That’s right, I said it. Money can buy TEMPORARY happiness. And after depleting our funds and energy in pursuit of this feeling, you will always come back ‘down’ to your natural state.
THIS is why I believe we should seek contentment. If we are content with ourselves and able to accept who we are while in our natural state of being, we will have more time, money, and energy to live and experience life, in both its delightful and inglorious moments. It doesn’t mean we can’t have goals for a better or different lifestyle, but it’s important to find acceptance and contentment no matter your situation. Even if you have nothing, you can enjoy a sunrise. Even if you have no one, you can partake in conversation with a stranger.
So look around, breath the air, listen, and dig in your heart for something to be grateful for. That is contentment. Embrace it, and you’ll never have to pursue happiness again.
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