The myth called ‘happiness’

I have lived my entire life in search of happiness. I don’t know what ‘happiness’ means. I’ve been told it’s a thing, more potent than any drug, something money can’t buy and something people would die for. It’s hilarious that ‘happiness’ means, ‘the state of being happy,’ and ‘happy’ is defined as, ‘feeling or showing contentment,’ or, ‘fortunate and convenient.’ Basically, there is no real meaning of ‘happiness’. To be able to define it, you would have to know what it is.

Everyone knows what sadness is, but because happiness is fleeting nobody knows what it is. We all know it’s something we want to feel constantly. But we can’t, we spend so much of our lives going in search of it. Some of us give up using the excuse that it’s overrated. It’s one way of saying we don’t know what it means. We’ve all read stories ending with, ‘And they lived happily ever after.’ Did they really? What does it even mean? I don’t know if I am actually happy when I say that I am. I guess it’s an approximation. When you say you’re happy, it’s because you feel there is a seventy per cent success rate in your life at the moment. At least for me, that’s the case. If I feel one thing went right in my day, it means I am happy.

Since we all want to feel happy, we set very low bars for our happiness. That’s why we say we like the ‘simple things’. It’s not modesty, it’s a way of saying we have low standards. For me, it’s one chocolate, extra chocolate sauce on my ice cream, a good movie, buy one get one free deals, and compliments.

I tell people that all I want in life is to be happy. That translates to- I don’t know what I want in life. People tell me happiness is subjective, that’s not a revelation, is it? The reason why everyone wants happiness is that our elders and society have made it seem magical, attainable and extremely important. I think it’s easier to be happy when you know less about it. That’s why children can laugh through anything, it’s because they don’t know what to make of life so they don’t think too much about it.

Adults cannot be happy, they can’t shed the burden of knowing. They know too much to be happy. Ignorance sometimes is bliss. We are not satisfied with moments of happiness, because they feel so short in comparison to moments of sadness which can feel like years. Happiness is more complex, you don’t know if you really are happy, and it’s usually when you’re not happy that you realise that there was a time when you were. It’s one big mess.

We’re all chasing happiness, losing our minds in the process. Some of us try to find happiness in material things like money, food, clothes, books, etc. Some of us search for it through God and religion, some search for happiness in people through love and friendship, and some of us don’t think happiness is real and even if happiness was wearing a tutu and hula-hooping to the Macarena in front of us we’d never recognise it.

Maybe happiness requires more thought, or maybe we think about it too much. Psychologists, doctors, scientists, and social scientists, all of them will define happiness differently. You can read as many papers you like and many philosophers’ works on the subject but you still won’t know what happiness is. It’s not for the lack of trying. Happiness has become an overused advertisement technique. Every product is meant to sell you happiness and those who want to feel happy will definitely try and purchase it only to realise that it doesn’t really bring a change to their lives. Happiness is a great tool to use only because nobody knows what it is.

I too have tried to define my happiness. I tried to box it, categorise it, and narrow down the possibilities. If I thought something would make me happy I went after it, and when I found it and it didn’t make me as happy as it was supposed to I decided maybe I had got it all wrong and would go after the next thing I thought would make me happy. Now I’d love to say, happiness was in front of me all along and I should have realised earlier. That’s the classic story. But, it wasn’t. That’s why I say happiness is a myth. It’s aspirational. Instead of being told, “Be happy,” I think we need to be told, “It’s ok not to be happy.”

We have to stop thinking happiness is the only purpose and instead find something more realistic. You don’t need to be happy forever. A few fleeting moments are better than nothing. Even if you realise later that there were a few moments of happiness that you experienced it’s better than living your life thinking you’ve never been happy. Happiness simply means not being sad. That could mean just smiling at something, a nice conversation, a funny joke, anything. Whatever doesn’t make you sad, angry or uncomfortable is something that makes you happy. You cannot smile from ear to ear like a lunatic all the time. A real smile which is not forced or faked is happiness.

The reason why we’re not happy when we find something we thought would make us happy is because we’ve set very high expectations of happiness. Happiness shouldn’t be more complicated than sadness, that just means we’ve focussed so much on being sad, and have forgotten what it means to be happy. The person or people who came up with the word ‘happiness’ knew what it means. It’s the people who wrote the dictionary that didn’t get it.

If you think about it it wasn’t their fault. If I had spent so much time defining all the English words between A and H, I would have forgotten what ‘happiness’ means as well.


2 thoughts on “The myth called ‘happiness’

  1. Poonacha PG says:

    Glad to see interesting comments about happiness and life. Keep writing. Don’t know how I decided to live life happily without thinking much about either happiness or life!


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