The Declaration of Independence guarantees all Americans the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. Now, I am not at all American – and never have I desired to be. But having a right to pursue happiness appears to me like some sort of paradox. This is because, to me, happiness is not something that can ever be chased successfully.
By now we’ve all heard the age-old John Lennon quote, for the sake of inclusiveness I’ll paste it below for all eight of you that haven’t seen it regurgitated across the internet.
I tell you what, I’ll even post it how it looks when your Mum shares anything on Facebook. It reinforces my point.
It’s a lovely sentiment at its core and I do believe we should all aspire to be ‘happy’ in our own lives – of course I do. But I do feel quotes such as these are being misconstrued, making multiple generations believe that happiness is some sort of aspirational goal in a similar vein to a career, perfecting a craft or having children. I believe the act of pursuing happiness is in-fact making people unhappy.
Happiness at its core is not an attainable trait, it is a fluctuating feeling that comes and goes in fleeting moments. It arrives when you would never expect it to and aversely never appears when you think it’ll be there. Think of it as those little light specs in your peripheral vision that disappear when you look at them. Liberty and freedom can be achieved, but happiness? No – it is a side-effect.
Attempting to seek a consistently ‘happy’ state is foolish, in the same way that one cannot exist in a constant state of luck. None of us can decide to be luckier because our heart desires it. We can, however, seek contentment.
Being a happy person stems from the roots of appreciation. Instead of being envious of a colleague for their higher salary or their fancier car, realise that yours fulfils all your needs. Never look at another child and compare it to your own, do not strive for that even more expensive watch because yours is only a year old. Not only can living like this make you a more content human being, it pulls you from the material rat-race and saves you money by living through your own means. Spend the money on the things you want to experience. Nobody thinks about their designer clothes on their deathbed.
Actively pursuing material happiness is the best way to drive true contentment away. The moment you buy that new car, your eye is almost immediately on the next one and you think how much happier the other person with that better car is. This drives discontent in your situation once more, even though you longed for this car for a substantial period of time.
You’ve heard the age-old quote that money doesn’t buy happiness, and this is why. We’re using it wrong. I’m not telling you to donate all your money and live on the streets. Just reign it in a little bit. While money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness, a lack of it often leads to unhappiness.
Money is your greatest tool to craft a path towards contentment. This constant strive for more is what makes the pockets of billionaire’s jingle.
Take note of what you’ve got around you, not your bank balance.
Close friends, a loving family, having new experiences or embracing your own creativity. Contentment comes from letting go of the idea that material possessions allow it to happen.
The U.S. may grant a ‘pursuit of happiness’ in its constitution, but I’ve spent time in some of the poorest areas of rural Tanzania and they are much happier than many people I’ve seen back on home turf.
Look internally, not externally.