The happiness myth: Why chasing constant happiness is bullshit

How to embrace all emotions for a full life.

People are constantly bombarded by the media and self-help gurus on how happiness should be our default state.

They are told they have the right to be happy and, if not, there is something wrong. They are not living the life they rightfully deserve.

Quit that job, dump that girl and leave that town if any of them are detrimental to your happiness, little snowflake.

There has been an influx of books, articles, blog posts and social media memes telling us now to find happiness.

Type in ‘books on happiness’ into Amazon and as of writing there are over 20,000 results.

A Google Trends search shows that more people are using Google for guidance on how to be happy.

For a time I bought into this way of thinking.

Constantly asking myself, “Am I happy doing this?”, “Will this make me happy?” “How much happiness will I get from it?” “Why am I not feeling as happy as I thought?”

Firstly, no one has the right to anything and certainly not constant happiness. Anything of value is earned.

Secondly, despite this wealth of information on how to be happy people are becoming more anxious and depressed. This way of thinking clearly isn’t working.

Finally, happiness is an abstract term. Having an expectation and entitlement of it can only lead to unhappiness.

What is the definition of happiness? According to it’s:

“That feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. It’s the opposite of sadness.”

My definition:

Happiness is just a positive emotion.

Nothing more, nothing less.

According to Human-Machine Interaction Network on Emotion (HUMAINE) happiness is one of 48 potential good or bad emotions you can feel at any one time.

Think about that. Out of 48 potential emotions, the human body is capable of producing you have a desire to feel happy all the time.

Constant happiness is neither possible nor desirable.

Neither possible because hormonal fluctuations in your body coupled with unexpected life events (someone at work pisses you off or someone close to you dies, for example) will always bring about negative emotional feelings such as anger and grief.

Neither desirable because who wants to be happy all the time? Without pain in our life and the resulting negative emotions that come with it there is no growth nor appreciation of the good times.

Without an understanding of what it feels to be sad, how can we not appreciate being happy? How can we not show empathy towards others who are going through tough times?

Use negative emotions to channel change in your thoughts and actions.

Change can be painful but we need constant battles in life to keep us alive and growing.

As Freud once said, “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

Just like any emotion, happiness is temporary. A fleeting moment.

What once brought that warm feeling may not always produce the same effect. Humans are complex animals that require new stimulus as we grow and evolve.

Accept that life will bring anger, disappointment, frustration and sadness just like it will bring delight, joy, pleasure, awe and, yes, happiness. It’s the mindset principles we apply to these negative emotions that make the difference.

The idea of being constantly happy is a myth that runs counterintuitive to the intended result.

You need a baseline contentedness about your life as a whole.

Just don’t expect to journey through this amazing thing we call life without embracing all emotions.

Written by Ste Davies

Ste ‘Stephen’ Davies is a freelance digital consultant, traveller, writer, podcaster and speaker based in London, UK. You can reach him here or follow him on Twitter below.

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  1. Well said. Striving for happiness is a trap. Most people don’t stop to think about the “what is” part of happiness, sadness etc. Striving for contentment is more apt in my view and preparing for tradegy is an unfortunate but critical part of the human experience.

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