Mind & Body

Why the pursuit of everlasting happiness is counterproductive

Contrary to popular opinion, striving for happiness doesn’t always make people happy. Author Gary Weldon explains why – and what we should actually be working towards instead.

“And they lived happily ever after” is the perfect ending to many of our favourite fairy tales and romantic comedies.

We connect with these stories because, for many of us, they represent the dream we seek in our own lives – a world filled with never ending happiness untainted by sadness, pain and fear.

The issue with this dream idyllic state is that it doesn’t exist, and the more we chase it, the more unhappy and dissatisfied we become.

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Influencer posts are modern day fairy tales

These days modern fairy tales are told in influencer posts through their social media such as Instagram. All too often everything seems so damn perfect in the fantasy world of social media.

Sometimes, all that seems to be missing from an influencer’s selfie is an image of unicorns prancing through fields of sunflowers pooping rainbows.

This can become an issue for those of us not living in these perfect worlds – we can often get sucked into feeling that we are missing out on our share of happiness and often fall into a state of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. This can lead us to putting on our ‘happy masks’, and pretending we are living our best life like the rest of our followers, I mean friends.

This desire for happiness has led to a billion-dollar industry. The world is filled with thousands of self-help gurus and books marketing the secret to everlasting happiness. Many work on the principle that if you can maintain a happy state of mind then you will be happy.

Everyone has their crap

When I first read about positive affirmations, I thought “ah ha that’s where I have been going wrong”. I have entertained my negative thoughts. Ok, let’s fix that. Let’s write positive quotes. Recite positive affirmations. Smile. Now, keep smiling. Then, real happiness will seek you out and embrace you like a warm pre-COVID19 hug.

Unfortunately, despite my new-found commitment to my annoyingly happy outlook I still felt bouts of unhappiness. I must be doing something wrong I figured. I needed to fake it until I make it with even greater conviction.

So what if I had an accident on the way to work – smile, Gary, smile.

Mum diagnosed with cancer – no problem. Pretend to be happy and happiness will find you in any situation.

It eventually dawned on me – everlasting happiness really is a state that exists only in fairy tales. In the real world life happens, and life is filled with good times, bad times and meh times. I also realised that we all have our crap, everyone.

Being a thinking member of the human race, it comes with the territory. Even the Dalai Lama, one of the most enlightened beings on our planet, has his own crap as evidenced by his quote:“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”

Pretending to be happy is not happiness

Pretending to be happy may have allowed me to temporarily fool everyone with my winning smile. However, in my mind (which I call Bob so I can call BS on him when he gets out of control), I knew that I had failed to achieve my happily ever after state.

The only thing I could put this down to was I still had crap in my life and everyone else had theirs sorted.

The truth of course is that regardless of whether you’re male or female, super-hot/smart/wealthy or not, a criminal or the CEO of your own company, everyone has their own crap.

You may pretend it’s not there. You may try and maintain the facade and hide it, but despite your best efforts it always seems to find a way to reveal itself.

Adopt an “all-weather” outlook

With the quest for eternal happiness relegated to the land of fables, where to next you may ask?

The answer might lie in finding a state of being that is an all-weather outlook. Something that can help us ride out life’s highs and lows but enable us to enjoy the good times. A lifeline of sorts that stops us from being dragged down into the depths of darkness during the bad times.

With this all-weather outlook came the realisation that happiness occurs at points in time, rather than being a continual state of being that is able to be sustained for a long time.

This epiphany helped me to change my focus to where it should be – becoming content with my existence. I still experience bouts of unhappiness, but I remind myself that this too shall pass and focusing on the basics by asking myself if I am ok right now?

Acceptance, not dwelling

A state of contentment is about being able to be present in the moment and allowing yourself to authentically feel whatever emotion is appropriate in the circumstances. It is about recognising that life is full of ups and downs and that neither will last forever.

By accepting where we are right now and not dwelling in the past (because it no longer exists) or living for the future (it is not guaranteed to happen), we are able to appreciate the universe we exist in and all its wonders.

Once we nail being content, we will find ourselves approaching life with a resilience and positive outlook that allows us to live our best life and of course enjoy the happy times.

Gary Waldon is the author of Sort Your Sh!t Out. He is a business transformation specialist who works with people at all levels from CEOs, business leaders and professional athletes through to teachers and retirees to help them take back control of the things that matter to them. Find out more at www.sortyourshitoutbook.com