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Why We Don’t Need to Try So Hard to Be Happy

Smiling

“Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.” ~Chuang-Tse

Everywhere we turn these days we seem to be bombarded by it.

TV commercials try to lure you into buying their products on the promise they will give you it. Magazines scream it from the front pages via sultry images and sexy block titles. Gossip magazines practically have a mission statement that fame will guarantee it. Corporations equate money with it.

So what exactly is it? What’s this one common denominator that seems to be a worldwide obsession? Happiness!

There are thousands upon thousands of articles, seminars, webinars, TV shows, and more that try to teach us how to achieve it. How to be a happier you. How to make your family happy. And, not forgetting our furry friends: How to make your pet happier.

It’s as if happiness is some salient commodity that will come to us if we just. Try. Hard. Enough.

We are repeatedly told that it’s floating around out there in the world and that it can be ours. Just look at the model on the front cover of that magazine practically flaunting it with her beaming pearly white smile. Even Pharrell is in on the game and wants us to be HAPPY (and maybe do a little happy jig).

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been seeing these types of juicy promises for years and, quite literally, bought right into them. Sure, if I just [insert the blank] enough, I will be happy. Surely this begs the question, have we pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon?

Think about it, the purpose of all these happiness-promisers, when you scratch behind the surface, is more likely the pursuit of profit rather than the pursuit of happiness. There’s usually a reason they keep touting the wonders of this magic commodity—it sells!

People love to read about quick fixes, how-to’s, and how not-to’s and willingly part with their hard earned cash to learn these supposed secrets. Spoiler alert…there are no secrets!

If we choose to believe that what we as a collective species yearn for is just out of our grasp then will we keep hunting forever. Perhaps we need to take a fresh look at what happiness actually is and whether it really is attainable by following steps one, two, or three.

Is it even designed to be a constant state of being? Who really walks around all day with a huge grin plastered on their face without the aid of narcotic substances or a seriously deranged mindset?

The first mistake is believing that happiness is outside of us, and something that needs to be attained. It’s not. It’s a state of being, an emotion that can pass through us when we least expect it, usually when we aren’t paying it any attention.

It can creep up silently sometimes for just a few minutes at a time before it skulks away from whence it came. As humans, we have a myriad of emotions, and as women, add a few hundred more on top of that.

In just one day we can feel a sense of love, pain, loss, betrayal, jealousy, anger, or laughter. I don’t think that as humans we are designed to have one singular constant emotion; we are complicated creatures.

So why don’t you see the media touting other less fun emotions? Why don’t we see articles titled “20 Ways to Feel Sadder,” “How to Cultivate More Rage in Your Life,” or “How Not to Ugly Cry”? No one would buy it! So why should we buy into the idea that we should be happy all the time?

Some of my happiest moments have been unexpected. I find it’s usually when my brain is engaged in the flow of another activity I really enjoy that I feel a sudden sense of complete happiness.

Another happiness inducer for me is being out in nature. That makes me feel really happy.

There is no one-size-fits-all happiness inducer. It can vary from hanging out with your kids or your pets to a simple walk on the beach to cooking a family meal.

My point is that it is not something that you have to work toward in the future, for it is not obtained through external effort. It is within us and we carry the possibility of it within us at all times whether we realize it or not.

Once we understand that happiness is not something that we can buy, sell, trade, or exchange, we don’t need to worry so much when we have a bad day.

However, do pay attention when it’s a great day, a positive day. Be thankful for it and acknowledge it. That way, when the smiley face pops up again (and it will, for nothing accelerates the good stuff in life like gratitude does) you are aware of it, again and again.

It can even be a feeling that you start to look forward to, like a best friend popping over for a cup of tea and a chat. Understand and accept that the feeling is temporary but will return. After all, if you’re best friend popped over and announced she was going to be staying a while, like the rest-of-your-life-awhile you might not be so happy about that.

If we didn’t have the sad, cry-on-your-way-home days, how could we learn to really appreciate the fun, exciting days?

So, stop reaching, searching, and trying to buy your slice of happiness, as it’s not something that is out of your reach.

Know that, and next time you’re standing in line at the grocery store, don’t reach for the magazine promising you the Disney fairy tale happy ending. It doesn’t exist—it’s a fairy tale!

Instead, smile at the cashier and wish her a lovely day. You will make her day a little happier and in doing so, maybe some of that magic will rub off on you.

Photo by ferobanjo

About Victoria Cox

Victoria Cox currently resides in NYC. She has written for The Conversation, Tiny Buddha, Elephant Journal, The Lady Project, Dumb Little Man & LifeHack. You can connect with her on Instagram @vcox23.

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  • Great post Victoria! You’re right of course, there are no quick fixes and happiness has to come from within. However, I don’t agree that we can’t ‘chase’ it. If something is making us unhappy and we feel we would be better served (and therefore possibly happier) if we changed direction in life or did something new then we should chase that because really, who wants to stay unhappy but I really love this article.
    I think there is far too much money being made from books and seminars etc from people exploiting those seeking happiness (from within ourselves or external factors) when really, there is some free advice and that is: It comes from within if only you try 🙂

    Toni

  • DE

    Well written Victoria. We are living in a very materialistic world with constant bombardment of advise. This is not helping us to live in the moment and enjoying the gift of life. Go with the flow of life and self love are the way to go. If we are happy, people around us will be happy, like a chain reaction. We need to be grateful for all the little joy in our life.

  • Hi Victoria,

    I love your perspective on happiness is from within. In fact, for things to change, first I must change. Another quote that I have learnt from a very successful business man which had a deep impact on my life is “Happiness only happens when you are in the progressive realization of a worthwhile dream.”

    Have a great day!
    Edmund

  • Schek

    I have one comment though about this notion that you can’t appreciate happiness if you don’t experience sadness. I don’t have to eat a rancid sandwich to appreciate a good meal.

  • kristen

    Thanks for sharing Victoria! Great article, I must admit I am an constant searcher of happiness but this stems from anxiety. I also have to point out the ad appearing right beside this article for a website Happify….. how easy it is to get sucked in.

  • Victoria coz

    Hi Toni
    Thanks so much for your comment. Glad you liked the article. You make an interesting point that if things need changing in your life, a change for the better can go a long way to make us more content and therefore happier. The choice to make a change comes first, and happiness is, hopefully, a positive by product of that change. All the best, Victoria

  • Victoria coz

    Thanks Edmund, great quote. All the best, Victoria

  • Victoria coz

    Hi Kristen, thanks for your comment. I know exactly what you mean, it’s always a struggle not to get sucked in but trying to remain self-aware helps a great deal. All the best, Victoria

  • Victoria coz

    Thanks for the insightful comment DE. All the best, Victoria

  • Jessica

    Thank you for writing this!! I was having a really stressful and horrible day, but this made it so much better!

  • Victoria coz

    So happy to hear this Jessica. All the best, Victoria

  • Harit Rathi

    Wow.

    I kept relating each thing I read with things happening around. I just want to thank you!

  • Victoria coz

    And thank you for your kind comment Harit. All the best, Victoria

  • karthika

    Nice article, i totally agree. Needs some editing though.

  • Martin

    I may be considered a tad biased but what a great piece! Made us feel happier.