The pursuit of happiness is big business. There are thousands of books on how to be happy or stay happy. And David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister has shown interest in measuring the happiness or wellbeing of UK citizens – taking inspiration from Bhutan where in 1972 they began to measure GNH – gross national happiness.
The intention of focusing on happiness and wellbeing is a good one. Everyone wants to feel good within themselves. We want to feel happy and know that those we love and care for are also happy or content. But there’s a downside to what is often a relentless pursuit of happiness so here is my take on it.
1) Life is a journey of bumpy roads, sharp corners and blind spots. That’s what makes it interesting and exciting. And as human beings, we are designed to experience a rich variety of feeling states. We can have a period of sadness that we may even find nourishing. For example the loss of a loved one and the feelings of appreciation for having them in our lives. At the same time, we may still consider ourselves to live in a general state of happiness or wellbeing.
2) The relentless quest to experience feelings of happiness or contentment can get in the way of being in the flow of life. We end up creating more of the feelings we don’t want simply by resisting the feelings we have in any moment. It’s our discomfort with our discomfort that keeps us stuck. The very act of resistance takes energy. It requires more thinking which creates more feelings. Can you see the Catch22 nature of this?
Having some insight into the nature of thought – recognising how all feelings are expressions of our thinking – allows us to move through all feeling states with more grace and ease. We can begin to have a different relationship with our emotions. We can see them for what they are. Insecurity isn’t a thing. It’s a thought which we turn into a thing.
3) As soon as we start to question how happy or content we are, we take ourselves out of the flow of life. The very act of checking and self monitoring moves us out of the moment and out of any nourishing feelings that we may be experiencing.
4) Happiness isn’t about more, different, better, easier, faster or slower. It’s not about accomplishments, status and other material things.
Happiness (as the ancient philosophers have been saying for millennia) is an inside job. It’s a state of mind that we can each experience effortlessly as we gain more understanding of the role and nature of thought.
Happiness and contentment are literally one thought away in any given moment. We innocently take ourselves out of our natural state of wellbeing when we innocently buy into thoughts that we’re not enough or that we need to be more or have more.