Have you ever chased after something you thought would make you happy, acquired it and then realised that it doesn’t make you quite as happy as you’d thought it would? If so, you’re not alone. Many of us spend time chasing happiness throughout our lives.
The truth is that this happiness chase will often be a never-ending event. All I need is a bigger house, an upgrade on my car and some new clothes – then, I’ll finally find happiness. Though when you do finally reach these goals, you may not find what you were searching for.
What is happiness?
One of the main reasons that pursuing happiness is difficult to define is that to each of us, happiness may have a difference definition. In Western culture, the pursuit of happiness is considered to be the norm, so maybe there’s something we can learn from Eastern values.
In Buddhism, happiness can be found only after accepting that life is suffering, but this suffering can be eliminating cravings and following the Buddhist path. Following this Eightfold path can end suffering, and leads to a life of happiness and peace – this involves the concept of Karma.
Taoism tells us that often, the opposite of what you pursue can come to be true. So those that pursue happiness may never truly reach it, as the pursuit of happiness is in itself a form of suffering.
In some religions like Islam, happiness in this life is little compared to happiness found in the next. The instant gratification found from small activities, like physical pleasures, is not considered to be happiness in Islam.
Happiness has a different meaning to all of us – what is happiness to me, may be completely different to you. But valuing happiness above all else now is unlikely to lead to true happiness in the long term.
What leads to happiness likely isn’t what you think
We spend so much time and money on ourselves trying to be happy and to feel happy. In many cases, putting others first actually brings us more joy than focussing on ourselves.
For example, various research has show that spending money on others makes us happier than spending more on ourselves (see here, and here too, and more recently here as well). What we think will bring personal happiness is often not true in reality.
This is why it’s important to stop chasing happiness in things that we assume will make us happy, as actually, it’s often unselfish acts that bring the most joy.
Success and happiness aren’t synonymous
A common misconception in the modern day is that success and happiness are the same, or that success will lead to happiness.
The problem here is that the definitions of success vary, but most of us take it to mean a successful career and ultimately, more money. Oftentimes, money is not the answer to a more enjoyable life.
We all want to be happy, and success seems like the best way to achieve this. But the truth is that success does not equal happiness, and forever chasing it can actually lead to more discontent in our daily life.
Accepting our emotions – Good and bad
No-one is happy all the time, and it’s normal for us to have negative feelings sometimes. It’s normal to have future anxieties about starting a new job, it’s normal to feel anger when someone threatens you, and it’s normal to feel sadness or be unhappy when something bad happens.
Many people run from these emotions. But actually, what may be best is to accept them. They are what makes us human, and suppressing any negative emotions in an attempt to be perpetually happy is actually the easiest way to end up being unhappy.
Scientific research suggests that bottling up your emotions is bad for your health – and both your physical and mental health can suffer as a result. So to experience happiness, we must also accept that sometimes, we must also be unhappy.
Watch out for societal pressures
Another thing to consider when it comes to our own happiness is that our perception may be heavily influenced by other factors external to us. This could be what we’re taught at school or experiences in the workplace that lead us to place happiness in objects, not feelings.
Society can subconsciously pressure us into buying physical objects, like a nice car or a bigger house, as we think that this will make us happy. This can often end up being a waste of money. Society may also make us feel like we need to be happy all the time, giving us unrealistic expectations on life.
The debate of whether social media is good or bad for society rages on, but it’s fair to say that there are both positive emotions and negative emotions that can arise from using it.
One of the main reasons why people think that we need to be happy all of the time is social media. It’s very easy to log into Instagram or TikTok and see other people being happy, and wonder why we aren’t as happy as them.
In reality, every human goes through periods of both immense please and enormous pain (accepting this pain is part of Buddhism). But only seeing the highlight reels of other people’s lives can lead us to question ourselves and why we’re not constantly happy, when the reality is that no-one is.
This is why it’s important for us to find contentment, and stop chasing a happiness that doesn’t – in other people, in material items, but most of all, within ourselves.
The answer lies in True Self Care
Chasing individual achievements is unlikely to lead to a happy life. Instead, it’s better to take a holistic approach to life instead of focusing on a sole moment. There are various things that we can do that will contribute to the quality of life.
Finding what we genuinely love and doing more of it.
many of us are on a search for what we genuinely love doing. What the Japanese call an Ikigai, or a reason for being that combines our life and worth into one.
Often times, what we love to do is something that we’re already aware of – a childhood obsessions, or a seemingly unrealistic career path that means less money. But once you find it, you can bring more happiness into your life.
Determine your values as a person and stick to them.
Our values determine who we are as a person. For example, I am loyal, compassionate, honest, selfless and above all, extremely humble.
Finding what your values are and sticking to them can bring you life satisfaction and make you feel good, which for most people, is the instant gratification that resembles happiness.
Live in the present, not in the past or the future.
Mindfulness makes us realize that being present in the current moment is important if we want to be self aware and remove our insecurities/
This doesn’t mean that time thinking about the future is wasted – far from it – but living in the moment and building today can make for a better tomorrow.
Learn how to appreciate the little things in life.
Life is filled with millions of small moments that together create a unique experience, and learning how to appreciate the finer details can leave you with a feeling of positivity. The little things combine together to make a big impact on our perception of the world.
There are many ways to do this, like spending more time with your family or consciously being thankful for what you have – you never know when it might be gone.
Be realistic with your goals and ambitions.
The perpetual hunt for happiness is in itself a form of self-torture, but having no ambition is also bad for our well-being.
There’s nothing wrong with having an average life. Try to find the balance between setting targets that will stretch your limits whilst also not being unrealistic isn’t easy, but is ultimately necessary.
Meditate in tranquility.
Meditation has long been considered a spiritual practice. But, science also shows that meditation can lead to a happier life, it can reduce fear and anxiety, and overall improve the quality of our lives.
Even if you start with just a few minutes a day, meditation can help you to let go of the need to pursue happiness.
Step outside of your comfort zone and make new friends.
It’s important to approach life with an open mind of warm and humility, which will attract new people into your life naturally without force. This involves stepping outside of your comfort zone and into new surroundings, which should be not feared, but anticipated.
You never know who you might meet and what impact they may have on your existence. Whilst your happiness must not rely on other people, ultimately humans are social beings, and interacting with others can bring new ideas and new memories.
Take care of your body.
Taking care of the shell of our existence is imperative if we want our limbs and organs, like our brains, to function properly.
The best way to treat your body is to stop thinking about the perceived negative parts of it and learn to love it wholly (as well as exercising, drinking more water and eating a balanced diet, obviously).
Ultimately, accept that happiness cannot be permanent.
In a perfect world, we often think that we would be happy all of the time. But the world isn’t perfect, and the assumption that we can be happy all of the time is exactly what can lead us to misery.
First, we must accept that happiness cannot be indefinite, and learn to appreciate the feelings and other emotions that we have. Only then can we begin to move towards a happier existence.
Pursuing happiness is a chase with no reward, and where most of us think happiness originates from isn’t accurate. For example, putting others first can give us a deep sense of contentment that is unattainable by only thinking about ourselves.
For true happiness, we must first accept that we cannot always be happy. In the long run, accepting all of your emotions and feelings is the best solution.