I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say that happiness is the goal of life, that God wants us to be happy, and that happiness is the only emotion worth experiencing.
I say – that’s a bunch of bull. Happiness isn’t the goal of life. Happiness is a fleeting emotion that comes and goes.
Being happy is nice, but it’s just a moment. It doesn’t last, as most emotions don’t. Contentment and joy are different than happiness. We can be joyful and still experience sorrow. We can be content in the lack of so much around us. Contentment and joy are states of being that don’t require a fleeting emotional state.
With all due respect to Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence and who was smarter than just about any human who ever walked the earth, I don’t think the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate goal. Yes, it is nice, but not the end-all, be-all. I think there are higher yearnings.
Our pursuit of happiness has led to some dire results – doing what makes you happy has consequences. It makes us focus on the short term – the extremely short term. We get caught up in emotions. We follow demagogues who preach a message of feeling good in the moment. We do things that cost us greatly later on. And what happens when you are happy? How do you hold on to that?
Does this mean you should all be miserable. No, this is not a zero-sum game where you are either happy or miserable. Sorry America, reality goes beyond our black and white, either/or way of thinking.
Happiness is something that has been debated going back since the beginning of philosophy – Plato and Aristotle wrote about happiness. There have been plenty who have argued that living a rational life or living a virtuous life would give one happiness. That seems far different than what the debate about happiness is today.
As with too many things in our culture, we emphasize the wrong thing – stuff becomes more important than people, emotions become more important than states of being, experiences become more important than character, happiness becomes more important than joy. Or worse, we warp the two to mean the same thing.
I’m not against happiness. I enjoy being happy, just like most people. I just don’t think it’s the most important thing in life.