According to Zhuang Zhou, an influential Chinese philosopher, “Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.”
If that's the case, I wonder how many people are genuinely happy. I mean, many of us wake up each morning and plan our days around what will make us happy (or, at least, what we think will make us happy).
On the weekends, we get as drunk as possible because we think an active social life will make us happy. And once we’re out, we smile and feign enthusiasm, because going out and not having fun would simply be a waste of time. Then we go home, where we spend our nights hoping someone we like gives us the time of day (because nobody is truly happy alone...right?).
Well, I’ve always viewed happiness differently. Then again, I’ve also never been one to get caught up with what other people were doing. If I want to stay in on a Friday night with a pack of Rizlas and watch tennis by myself, I’ll do it without hesitation.
Happiness -- or, at least, other people's ideas of it -- has never been something I’ve felt like I had to chase. Happiness is just a byproduct of the activities I find enjoyable.
At 23, I'm aware of who I am and what makes me happy. I never try too hard to strive for happiness; I usually just stick to what's worked for me in the past and let the rest of the pieces fall into place. From my experience, trying to do things that I think might make me happy usually just achieves the opposite.
But if you’re the kind of person who puts a lot of effort into being happy, the best thing you could do for yourself might be not trying at all. Because according to Michaela Haas, Ph.D., author of "Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs," pursuing happiness might be the thing that's holding you back.
Being happy and having a positive outlook are important for a healthy mind. But when you force yourself to be overly optimistic, you'll negatively impact your psyche. As Haas explains, you'll enter a state of denial. You'll end up repressing emotions that you should try to work through instead.
“Before we can overcome suffering,” she writes, “we need to go through it. The way beyond suffering leads through, not around.”
Although you might be in a minor slump and think that doing “happy things” will pull you out of it, you'll probably just suppress your unhappiness.
Granted, you may temporarily forget about your problems. But suppressing them will guarantee that you never truly overcome them. You're just putting them off.
If happiness is something you desire, figure out why you’re unhappy, and try to fix it. Don’t chase happiness; address what’s making you unhappy in the first place.
In the words of Iris Mauss, who’s responsible for some of the most groundbreaking research on happiness, “When people want to be happy, they set higher standards by which they're more likely to fall short." Doing this will just push you further down the rabbit hole.
Fixating on being happy can negatively affect your social life. As Mauss puts it, "If you want to be happy, you may be more likely to focus on yourself, and that can have negative effects on your social networks and your social connections."
Focusing on happiness won't bring it to you. We tend to fall short of the high expectations we set for ourselves when we consciously try to find happiness.
If we believe happiness is supposed to look a certain way, we’re going to be let down. If we fall short of what we want, we'll feel justified in our unhappiness. Because of this, it’s important to find happiness from within ourselves -- not create an idea of what happiness "should" look like.
We need to stop striving for happiness. We need to stop thinking of it as something to be grasped (we need to stop thinking of it as a tangible "thing" at all). As psychiatrist Viktor Frankl puts it, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” In other words, when you try to push happiness on anyone, it can never be truly genuine.
Happiness is something that will take you over when it’s real, but it should not be sought.
It's the same in love: When you try too hard to find it, you’ll only end up blinding yourself and losing perspective. You'll develop tunnel vision.
In order to be truly happy, take a step back and allow yourself to be truly happy.