WHY OUR PURSUIT OF "HAPPINESS" IS ACTUALLY LEAVING US UNHAPPY
We live in a day and age obsessed with happiness and we’ll do just about anything to obtain it. We’re hooked on the pursuit of “feeling good”, yet in reality so many of us are left feeling bad. We have more stuff, but we’re less satisfied. More facebook friends, but less genuine ones. More “success”, yet so many of us are completely discontent with our “real” life.
Why? Why is depression, anxiety and even suicide rates the highest they’ve ever been? Why do we struggle so much in our identity, sense of worth & inner peace? I’d be presumptuous in saying I know the answer. I don’t (And without a doubt biological, socio-economic and psychological complexities influence our overall well being).
But, this I can be certain - a life of self-indulgence, material gain and consumerism is all promise, with no lasting fulfilment. All veneer, little substance. Maybe it’s time we started looking for happiness some place elsewhere? Maybe it’s time we substituted our “me me me” mentality for something bigger? Something that doesn’t leave us feeling like we’re chasing the elusive pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, only to end up empty handed.
I dare say, the antidote to discontentment isn’t getting everything we want, but being grateful for what we have. I believe true happiness is deeply rooted in authentic connection, a healthy perspective and a purpose-filled life.
I once read a quote that said, “The difference between entitlement & privilege is gratitude.”
It’s true, gratitude changes everything! Literally, thankfulness has the power to shift your mindset which ultimately influences your emotions, moods and life experiences. So often we focus on what we don’t have, not what we do. We live in a consumer culture, always chasing the next new thing to make us feel good, but if we could just step back for a moment.
If we could just see what’s in front of us, and appreciate it, that desire of needing more, having to have more would slowly lose it’s grip.
The truth is, often the things we take for granted are the most important things in life. A loving family (or friend or spouse), good health, running water, education, physical safety, a supportive community. Often, the most precious gifts we’re given are right in front of our face, but we’re too blind to see it.
“A satisfied life is better than a successful life. Because our success is measured by others. But out satisfaction is measured by our own soul, mind and heart.”
“There were people who went to sleep last night, poor and rich and white and black, but they will never wake again. And those dead folks would give anything at all for just five minutes of this weather or ten minutes of plowing. So you watch yourself about complaining. What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it." - Maya Angelou.
So, together, lets shift our focus because you can’t be thankful and unhappy at the same time.
As human beings we are made for connection. Like the real, raw & deep kind. The kind where you feel truly known by someone, truly seen by someone. Unfortunately, in our technology driven and social media obsessed society we often trade quality over quantity and often love things and use people, instead of using things and loving people. A few years ago I remember reading multiple studies that explored what actually made people happy.
Almost every single one boiled down to this conclusion - the quality of your relationships.
Research found that once your basic necessities are met (food, clothing, shelter), the best indicator of a person's happiness is the connection they have with others. That’s because
“Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” Brene Brown.
So instead of seeking joy in status, stuff or social affirmation let’s lean into connection. Let’s cultivate relationships that run deep in affection, emotion and vulnerability.
What happens on the inside of us (in our hearts, our thoughts and our emotions) has far more influence on the outcome of our lives than circumstances ever will.
Logo-therapist and concentration camp SURVIVOR Victor Frankl makes this robust statement, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Life can be brutal. We all face trial and trauma, with real pain and substantial ramifications. The death of a loved one, the disappointment of losing a job, feelings of inadequacy, the fracture of a friendship or family unit. Life can hurt, a lot, but I've discovered in the moments of utter heartache and anguish we are ultimately left with a choice. I know, so easy for me to say, much harder for you to walk out.
A few weeks ago a close friend of mine lost his beautiful mum. One morning she just didn’t wake up. It was horrible receiving the news. My heart broke for him and his family. Understandably, they were devastated, but they weren’t destroyed. A few days later I watched the funeral online and was blown away at the divine “perspective” and incredible peace that undergirded his family that day. There were tears, but many more laughs and cheers as they celebrated an astounding wife, mother & contributor to her community. No doubt there will still be waves of grief that wash over him, but ultimately His perspective is anchored in eternity. His hope is secure that she is looking down from heaven, a smile on her face proud of the Son she raised so well.
The truth is we can’t control what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to it. Our reaction to a situation literally has the power to change the situation itself!
“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” - Abraham Lincoln
You were created on purpose, for a purpose. That statement may seem clich’e, but it’s true. It doesn't matter if your parents planned you (mine didn’t), but God did. You are here for a reason, and you are here to live a life of meaning.
We've been sold this idea that happiness lives at the end of personal fulfilment. I’d like to suggest it’s the contrary. Meaning enters our lives when we start to think of and value others.
I believe our “purpose” has far more to do with others, than it does with us. Humanitarian Albert Schweitzer makes this statement, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but this I know . The only ones among us who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Ultimately, I believe our purpose is to know the one who created us and make Him known to those around us. Whether that be in the vocation we put our hand too, the children we raise, the projects businesses or masterpieces we create we were each born with specific gifts and graces to make the world a better place.
In closing, may I leave you with the wise words of well-renowed theologian C.S. Lewis.