If you follow this space, then you would have noticed that I’ve been obsessing about the philosophy of happiness and contentment for the past few years.
Maybe it’s because there are a gazillion self-help books on happiness (which I find absolutely absurd). Or because I’m a happy person amidst a generally unhappy world. Or because depression is such a common disease these days, and I can’t even begin the fathom the psyche of depression. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I came up with a pretty simple formula for my own happiness, and it all stems around contentment. You can read my thoughts about that in different places:
A small excerpt:
Once you start truly and deeply grasping the importance of your insignificance, you automatically become happier. After all, you won’t have to deal with the emotional issues that stem from self-destructive attitudes arising from an inflated view of self-worth.
Once your ego is tamed, you can start thinking about the mechanics of happiness. Do you start searching for happiness when you open your eyes in the morning? Do you look forward to your night out, because you feel that it might make you happy? Do you move from one thing to another seeking more pleasure?
There lies the paradox of happiness. You can seek only what you do not have. Thus, to seek happiness is to lack it. When you have it, on the other hand, what remains to be sought? A way for it to last? That would mean fearing its cessation, and as soon as you do that, you start feeling it dissolve into anxiety. Such is the paradox of happiness, and the futility of hope — the hope for tomorrow’s happiness prevents you from experiencing today’s.
Instead, the way to happiness lies in “Memento mori”, Latin for “remember you shall die”.
And apparently, science agrees:
STOP IT. Stop trying to be happy.
If you take away one thing from this post, let this be it: to be happy, there’s a decent chance you’ll have to stop trying to be happy. Sorry to get all zen-master on you, but that’s the way it is.
Nevermind the fact that measuring happiness is a lot like trying to weigh an idea in pounds and ounces. Yes, there are ways to gauge happiness, whether chemically or with a questionnaire, but when you get right down to it, “happiness” means different things to different people, and is one of the single most nebulous ideals in existence — and one of the biggest downsides to this truth is that setting a goal of happiness can actually backfire.
Some of the most important research on happiness to emerge in recent years stands in direct opposition to the cult of positivity typified by bullshit positive-thinking self-help books that place a lopsided emphasis on setting grand personal goals of happiness. In a review co-authored in 2011 by Yale psychologist June Gruber, researchers found that the pursuit of happiness can actually lead to negative outcomes — not because surrounding yourself with positive people, mastering a skill, smiling, getting therapy or practicing self-governance aren’t conducive to happiness, in and of themselves, but because “when you’re doing it with the motivation or expectation that these things ought to make you happy, that can lead to disappointment and decreased happiness,” says Gruber.
So be the zen master. Stop trying to focus on becoming happier and just be. Surround yourself with people not to become happy, but to enjoy their company. Master a skill not to increase your happy feels, but to savor the process of becoming.