Today we have a guest post by Scott Wilson. An author and engineer, Scott finds problems and then designs the solutions. With his blog, Designed2Succeed, he helps his readers design their most important project: their own lives.
After you read his post, please leave him a comment here, and then check out his thoughts on his blog.
Everyone wants to be happy, right? I mean as far as goals go this one seems to be right up there on most people’s list. The United States constitution even guarantees the right to pursue happiness. So much of the modern advertising industry is built upon the premise of selling the elements that deliver happiness. It is safe to say that trying to be happy is definitely a common priority within our society.
People do many things in their unending efforts to become and remain happy. They seek friendship, love, romance, marriage, children, fame, fortune, spirituality, god and so much more all hoping that these will lead to lasting happiness. It is my observation that all of these things have at best fleeting success in attaining happiness.
Every single one of the ideals that I have mentioned above is mixed with joy and pain, happiness and sorrow. The best friendships will still occasionally disappoint. Romance waxes and wanes. Marriage and families are filled with great joys and heart-crushing events. Even religion and spirituality do not grant immunity to the trials and pains of life.
And yet mankind spends an amazing amount of time and effort chasing the dream of happiness. In this powerful pursuit we demonize sadness and depression. North America is an abundant and rich country where we enjoy a standard of living that far exceeds that of over 60 percent of the world. Still Americans currently spend an estimated $11.3 billion dollars annually on anti-depressants, consuming more per capita than any other nation. American use of anti-depressants skyrocketed 400% from 1988 to 1994. We go to great pains to avoid being unhappy in any way and in the process we treat almost all sadness as an illness.
So what is wrong? Why can’t we seem to lay hold of this ultimate prize despite our herculean efforts? We have material wealth and security like no other nations but we are failing at the very pursuit that our predecessors nobly guaranteed for us. It actually seems that the harder we try obtain happiness the more difficult it becomes to obtain. I actually believe that this principle holds true, and so I propose that it is truthfully our very quest for happiness that causes the problem.
We live in an impermanent world. All things that live will die and everything that is created eventually decays and fails. Why then do we expect our happiness to be permanent? In Zen Buddhism it is believed that our attachment to objects in this ever-changing world that leads to sadness and frustration. There is much truth to this belief, however even detachment will not guarantee happiness just as an absence of pain does not guarantee pleasure. So the problem of happiness remains.
I propose that we release our iron grip on the pursuit of happiness and instead focus our pursuit on joy. No, I am not just playing with semantics. Joy is defined as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires (from Merriam-Webster). I believe that it is the last part of this definition that is telling: ‘emotion evoked by… the prospect of possessing.’ There can be joy in the pursuit even if the item pursued is not obtained. I would go so far as to say that we can actually enjoy pursuing happiness even if we fail in that pursuit!
I further submit that joy supersedes happiness. As my father lay in pain dying of bone cancer in I enjoyed our much of our time together and so did he. Despite all that my father was experiencing he still enjoyed the simple pleasure of a cappuccino from a local coffee shop. Were we happy? No, not at all. That did not stop joy. In my life and in others I have seen joy in the midst of sorrow, pain and even death.
We need to allow ourselves the ability to experience joy. This often involves slowing down and actually paying attention to and experiencing our lives. We can have goals and quests for worthy ideals but we need to expect that there will be bumps on those journeys. Let not our pursuits rob us of our joy. I have observed people in pain struggling to be happy at Christmas, the supposedly happiest time of the year. In their struggle, these poor souls not only fail to obtain happiness but they deprive themselves of their joy.
Can we still pursue happiness? Yes, but don’t expect to catch it and keep it. Happiness will come and go, and that is alright. Do not run from sorrow especially when the seasons of life call for it. Hold fast to joys, especially the simple ones. Joys can be our greatest treasures in times of tribulation. At all times take pleasure in kindness, smiles and love. In this challenging life, when happiness seems so far off, remember that there can still be great joy in the journey.
©Scott D. Wilson 2014