Why the search for happiness keeps making us sad

BY: Christine Evangelou

I have lived with this illusory search for happiness for as long as I can remember. I have captured instances, moments, and clusters of happiness, yet nothing ever stood the test of time.

Lately, I have begun to wonder if happiness is a wild goose chase, something that will always be 10 steps ahead of me.

Happiness means different things to all of us. For some, happiness is a fulfilling career. For others, it’s a contented relationship, the smiling eyes of their children, or just embracing something that fills one’s heart with joy. In truth, no one can give or sell us ‘happy’; happiness is an emotion and a state of being that must come from within. Emotions are fluid, they will come and they will go — so is happiness ever really meant to stick?

Ask most people what they want in life, and many will answer, “I just want to be happy.” We are all on a quest for joy, fulfilment and soul riches.

 Perhaps what we have been told about happiness since our childhood days of reading fairy tales with happy endings has twisted and tangled our ideas about what happy actually looks like.

Because in those fairy tales and heroic stories, happiness is never now — it is always far away in the future some place, and it always depends on something or someone else.

Is happiness an illusion?

Perhaps the way we view happiness is where the illusion lies. When it’s away into the future, it’s too far off for us to grasp, and when we do, it’s too fleeting for us to slow down and savour. It’s too broad as a concept to be able to define and limit to the achievement of any one thing.

When we focus our dream of happiness onto a present lack, we are setting ourselves up for sorrow. Happiness comes with no guarantee. It is not something we can fix in place.

When we think of how we measure our happiness, we are often geared towards massive accomplishments and the blissful rewards they promise. Yet we can find greater meaning and purpose in the smaller, everyday things which the wider, more ambiguous search can sometimes steer us away from.

Inwardly, happiness is more simple: it is self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-love. Our inner sources of joy should not need external definition.  

We don’t need the perfect marriage, the perfect job, or the charm of monetary riches to feel happy, and if we think we do, then we are lying to ourselves. Even if we were to attain everything on our list of goals, it would never satisfy our deeper hunger for happiness.

These things are all brushed with the strokes of impermanence — to have, but not to hold. We think that we have to work so hard to be happy, yet why should it be such a struggle? It is the struggle itself that fills us with lack, despair and the holes of missing happiness in our hearts.

Instead of chasing distorted ideas of happiness based on childhood or adolescent influences or whom and what we see around us, we can seek out how we can belong to ourselves and evolve in our own spiritual sense of what joy is. We can look within and redefine our highest hopes around something less fragile and fleeting than the grandiose accomplishments we have fixed our happiness to.

We can focus on what we have right now rather than what we don’t have, we can find happiness in living fully and transcending our limiting beliefs, and we can experience fulfilment when we recognise our own ability to inspire and create it — inside.

For many of us, happiness has become the gold star award at the end of the road. We look at strangers’ faces in the pictures that seem intoxicated with merriment and we want the same for ourselves.

Are those faces in the pictures real, and what stories do they tell? We are already inbuilt with love, meaning and worth. Happiness doesn’t lie in what we have or hold onto. It is who we choose to be right now.