Is happiness overrated?

What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you happy?

I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that happiness was the correct emotion. Apparently one always needs to be “on the go”, thinking “positive” thoughts, and applying a carefree attitude towards the future. I know people like that. A lot of them are bums today.

happiness_overratedThe pursuit of “happiness” ironically is what creates a lot of angst. When you are actively pursuing happiness (perhaps following the advise of the happiness consultants who come up with all the happiness criteria we see being shared around), you are always measuring and evaluating how happy you are. That, in turn, is what further highlights the gap between what you define as what is to be happy and unhappy about in your own life — even where none such gap actually exists.

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The thing with consultants and coaches is that they are good at reducing abstract notions into algorithmic or formulaic “frameworks” (which make it easier to package their advise into self-help books and training programs). Happiness is really a subjective state. But thanks to all of these “7-step” guides and bullet-pointed checklists that make our concept of happiness more akin to a one-point goal, many of us have lost the plot. Really, though, happiness is an emotional zone that we flit in and out of as we journey through life.

Happiness was, of course, always destined to be made out to be a be-all-end-all goal of life. That’s because happiness feels good. I’d take happiness over sadness anytime. The trouble started, however, when all stories fed to us as kids ended with the characters necessarily living “happily ever after”. Worse, these stories are very specific about what that term means. It means finding your prince charming or beautiful blonde princess and spending the rest of your days in a palace in the midst of an eternal spring.

In the film The Avengers, Dr. David Bruce Banner let on to his team the secret of how he is able to control the Hulk in him. “I’m always angry,” he says with a wink before joining the fight. There is something to learn from the point Dr. Banner makes. In his reality or circumstance, he needed to apply a unique solution that works for him. The key point here is that people are different and, as such, different emotional cocktails work for each of us.

In my personal case, I am happiest writing. But happy thoughts are not what fuel my writing. It is an old call to action issued by an esteemed former colleague that is a source of the messages in what I write. Let your annoyance be your writing mojo.

In that sense, perhaps we can go as far as exploring the possibility that happiness achieves nothing. To be happy means that there is nothing broken to fix. But, really, there is always room for improvement. Always a dark corner of the world to explore. Always a new idea to develop. Always a bugbear to relieve. Always an itch to scratch. There is a reason many of the greatest stories ever told are set in big noisy bustling cities like New York and London, even Manila. Because there is a lot in the hardship of living with lots of challenges and people in your face that builds character than in living on a beach.

I’d suggest that the better alternative goal to happiness is mindfulness. Be aware of your surroundings and the people you interact with. Live through each day consciously rather than on autopilot. That way life does not simply pass us by and we find more of the nuggets of experiences that then become the stuff of journeys out of which a meaningful life is led.

If you need a “coach” to be happy or follow a 7-step “process” to find meaning in your life, chances are you never will be nor ever find it respectively.

15 Replies to “Is happiness overrated?”

      1. Right on the money re: mindfulness. Currently practicing chigong via longwhitecloudqigong website.Great stress reliever.

        ps. I am not an affiliate/promoter. Just like to share.

  1. Thoughtful article…Happiness for many, seems to consist of chasing pleasure. But like everything in life, pleasures are fleeting; so a new chase begins and then another. For me, happiness is not a goal; but a by-product of being involved in meaningful experience. If you want to be happy, stop trying to please yourself and instead help another person.

    1. Thanks. And that’s the whole problem with this. It’s like a religion that becomes open to wrong interpretations and getting practiced for the wrong reaons. People who lack the right thinking faculties then take up these “guides” and “processes” to achieving happiness may lose (or not get from the very beginning) the difference between happiness and, say, hedonism or the pursuit of mere pleasure. Religion also turned spirituality into scripture and dogma. And for people who don’t think, that scripture and dogma took on a life of its own to the point where the spirituality on which these were supposedly based took a backseat to these. Happiness preachers, “coaches”, “consultants” are doing the same, turning ‘happiness’ into a religion.

      1. Happiness is not satisfaction, or accomplishment or contentment; people often confuse the three.

        Mindfulness is a good word.

  2. Happiness is a state of mind. If you decide to be happy; you will be happy. Not that, there are no problems and difficulties in life. But, be positive to solve them.

    It is in overcoming these difficulties; that we grow…strive to be happy, always. And, be thankful for what you have…

  3. I never expected an article like this from you. It’s much better than most of the stuff you’ve put up on the site. Write more like this!

  4. Mindfulness is indeed the key to happiness. It allows us to experience inter-being. In my case, as a vocal instructor, I only teach my students to remain happy in order to create good vocal sounds. Happiness is a tool for more possibilities and it is through mindful state of being that one can achieve happiness. When one is happy, the innermost being of the person opens all possibilities to floe, one of which is the capacity to sing well. That makes people, not only the vocalist, but the listeners happy too.

  5. Quite different than most articles I’ve read lately that’s why it kind of felt strange when I saw and read this but it does make a great point. Happiness is a mental or emotional state, if it is overrated then so is sadness and other emotions that we human beings have. That would mean we humans, may be overrated as well.

    People that live in the past or yearn for the future usually but not most are unhappy because they refuse to acknowledge the present. The fact that they can’t come back and they can’t move forward without living in the present. Happiness means a lot of things to different people, it depends on how they interpret it, even the wikipedia definition is just someone else’s take on what happiness means. How you define it is up to you. If you want to be happy then by all means be happy, but not at the expense of other people.

    1. Which is why swift justice is important to a healthy society. Without the closure delivery of justice brings, it is very difficult to move forward. You can see it in the profound bitterness between political rivals and warring feudal clans in the Philippines. Because nothing ever gets resolved convincingly in the Philippines, resentments continue to simmer and persist even down generations.

      1. Ah, yes. The endless vicious cycle in which other people gain their personal brand of happiness by trampling on others with impunity. It’s been happening since time immemorial, let’s take a bigger example during the World Wars of yesteryears..was there anyone happy by that time? Only few people were happy because they thought they were the only ones entitled to it. I’m not really shocked that there are people who still carry on their resentment to the next of kin in which this cycle will never truly end until every single organism called the human is gone from this planet.

        Justice is actually ‘just-tiis’ here it is a foreign concept with a local flavor that tastes bad than the usual overload of MSG and additives to food, I wonder how many actual cases where really put to justice without the use of compadre system or the official form of currency for justice..cold hard cash.

  6. Since happiness isn’t a tangible thing, it’s easier for people who don’t have much to acquire it. They know how to be thankful with what little they have and are more grateful with unexpected surprises. Unlike people who can easily dispense what they have with new things. Their happiness is short-lived.

  7. NO, HAPPINESS IS NOT OVER-RATED. it does mean different things to different people though.

    Happiness is a state of mind and is essential for good health,both physical and psychological.

    It is ,IMHO, the only thing that matters inside of the Maslow ‘BASELINE’ in the ‘Heirarchy-of-Needs’ platform.

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