The Pursuit of Happiness
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2016 (edited 2017)
If the sole purpose of our existence is to increase pleasure, we will never be satisfied. Living a full and rich life experiences many emotions. Happiness is a balance of healthy thoughts and growth promoting actions.
Relentlessly pursuing happiness interferes with enjoyment. Happiness, used as a motivational carrot, keeps flourishing beyond our grasp. When we envision happiness as a problem to be solved, we focus on the wrongs, the sorrows, and the disappointments. We busy our selves with changes and continuous evaluations of our current state of being. This isn’t enjoyable; living with a problem that can’t be solved undermines our goal and disrupts the liveliness of existence.
Self-improvement is healthy. Healthy acts today relieve some of the anxieties of tomorrow, improving immune systems, and lightening cognitive loads. The internal improvements supersede changes in the feeling experience—we improve but don’t feel the improvement. We feel pretty much the same. A great accomplishment (college degree) or a tremendous stroke of luck (a winning lottery ticket) may immediately boost our mood but typically we slip back in to the same old malaise. By chasing happiness, feverishly unearthing the negatives, burdens our system, magnifying feelings we wish to avoid. When we try to not think of a white elephant, we naturally inviting that darn elephant into our thoughts. In order to suppress the thought, we keep provoking the thought we desire to suppress.
Feelings often change with improved living; but the changes are subtle. Constantly evaluating contentment, peace and satisfaction for inadequacy we invite thoughts of what we are seeking to avoid—inadequacy and disappointment. Inner-contentment (happiness) and outer-achievement are associated but the correlation is complex.
Many strongly disciplined individuals suffer maladies of the mind, preventing enjoyment of their achievements. Happiness is a balance between extinguishing harmful thoughts and making the healthy choices that improve futures. Healthy behaviors prevent future distressing pitfalls—the events that disrupt happiness. Developing relationship skills deepens our connections increasing outside support. Saving money diminishes anxiety over bills. We never perfect these life skills. We still must face the paradoxes of living, open to off-setting skills for counterbalancing such as personal boundaries in relationships and spending money for present enjoyments. We never arrive. The carrot continues to dangle three feet in front of us. There is always room for further improvement. When we over-identify with what we lack, the shortcomings spark discomfort, creating an unsolvable conflict between what we want and what we have.
Happiness improves by small degrees with stability, strengthening relationships, and improved health but also important is the experience of the moment, compassionately accepting current feelings, and appreciation of past successes. Happiness must be experienced in the present. When we happily engage in self-progress, we create more circumstances to be enjoyed.
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