I’ve been reading a lot of posts and articles lately with authors stating that happiness is the ultimate goal in life. I disagree. I think happiness is overrated and not the ultimate goal in life. Don’t get me wrong, I think happiness is generally a good thing, but the ultimate goal in life? Really? That seems a bit too John Lennon-ish to me.
Here’s why I question this: What if someone finds happiness in seeing others berated, or injured? They are achieving happiness right, so we should be happy for them? That seems a bit skewed, doesn’t it? What about those that think that they can only be happy if someone else is miserable – kind of like there is zero sum amount of happiness. Again, skewed. But I can hear complaint about these questions – “that’s not what we are talking about…” Yes, I understand that’s not what was meant, however, these are real possibilities. These type of things pop up when we make bold statements about something being the ultimate goal in life for everyone and assume that everyone has the same definition for a term. My experience has shown me that common definitions for terms never happen. Ever.
Sometimes, some of the authors who wax on about happiness, sound a bit too Epicurean for me.
Here’s my belief about happiness. It’s great. I enjoy it when I am happy. But here’s what I’ve experienced. The problem with happiness is that it is a passing thing – it comes and it goes. And, rather than that really being a problem, I think that’s a good thing. Imagine always being happy – after awhile happiness would be the norm. Would you then realize you were happy anymore? Would you be striving for something else to make you happier? This is where I think the problem with stating something is the ultimate goal in life, like happiness. It makes it sound like we have to strive to obtain something – that it all relies on us and what we are able to do, and feel, and think. I just don’t buy that. For me, as a Christian, I believe that God takes care of us and provides for us. And because of this, we can then go and be and do things that might make us happy. But being happy is not the ultimate goal as if being happy will give meaning to my life.
Here’s something else I believe. Happiness is not always the best thing in the world. When someone dies, we feel sorrow and pain and loss. Is that a bad thing? Should we drown those feelings because happiness is the highest good? I don’t think so. In those moment when someone close to us dies, feeling sorrow, pain and loss is normal. It reminds us that the person who died was important to us, that the relationship had meaning for our life and that a part of ourselves died with that person we loved. These are good things and they trump happiness in that moment. Ranking happiness above other feelings dismisses anything else that we can experience. Yes, even anger can be a good thing. But just like anything else, excess is not good. Too much of anything will start to hurt us.
So what do I think is the ultimate goal in life? Great question. At the risk of making a bold statement, here’s the answer for me. My answer is simple – to be. Yeah, we’re going to do a lot of stuff. Yeah, some of us are motivated to accomplish things. Great. But do those things define who we are? I happen to believe that we are children of God. That is who we are. Anything we do or don’t do will never change that. When we try to do things to assist us in defining who we are – that’s when we get caught up in what we doing and miss the little things, miss what counts, and forget our core.