Why Staying On An Endless Pursuit Of Happiness Is Making You Miserable
Gary Keller, founder Keller Williams Realty, the largest real estate company by agent count, says if you ask people what they want in life, they'll probably tell you they want happiness.
Happiness seems to be what most people demand and strive for in life, but it's also what most people understand the least.
Ultimately, most of our actions and behavior is intended to make us happy, but happiness doesn't work the way we think it works.
Most philosophers and psychologist agree that happiness isn't something you seek directly; it's the result of multiple things going right in your life.
In the book "Civilization and Its Discontents," Sigmund Freud says our behavior is largely dominated by what he calls the pleasure principle: the idea that we move toward perceived pleasure and away from perceived pain.
Freud says our pleasure principle "is at loggerheads with the whole world [...] One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be 'happy' is not included in the plan of 'Creation.'"
Freud says, "We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things," meaning you have to first be unhappy to appreciate being happy.
You must first experience the pain of hunger to experience the joy of eating.
Happiness is when needs of high intensity are met, therefore they can only be brief experiences.
When any desired situation is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild comfort.
To be continuously full on food would rob you from the pleasure of eating the food you enjoy.
Would you want to never feel hungry again for the rest of your life?
What about sex?
Would you want to experience sex 24/7 for the rest of your life?
At first this may sound amazing, but would you really want to?
The reason we struggle to find continual happiness is because happiness is a contrast.
Too many people try to pursue happiness, and they overindulge in what they think will make them happy.
But overindulging in anything such as sex, food and happiness will guarantee that you won't find happiness.
We are not made to experience continual happiness, therefore our ability to be happy is limited by our biology.
Daniel Lieberman, a biologist and anthropology at Harvard University, says,
No organism is primarily adapted to be healthy, long lived, happy, or to achieve many other goals for which people strive.
We see this with fear.
Fear serves an evolutionary purpose to keep us alert and cautious so that we would avoid danger and live to see another day.
Fear is a human adaptation, meaning it was a reproductive advantage that led to survival.
But we've also adapted to be worried, anxious and stressed, and this causes much unhappiness and misery in our lives, which negatively affects out happiness today.
Many of our adaptations did not necessarily evolve to promote physical or mental well-being.
Our biology does not allow us to be continuously happy, so does that mean working toward what we think will make us happy is pointless?
The program of becoming happy, which the pleasure principle imposes on us, cannot be fulfilled; yet we must not — indeed, we cannot — give up our efforts to bring it nearer to fulfillment by some means or other.
Even though you can't be happy all of the time, that shouldn't stop you from figuring out what actually makes you happy.
Whether it's love, beauty, work, knowledge or community that makes you happy, it's up to you to figure out.