I posit that the search for happiness is as old as the age of our species and probably older. There’s no doubt that we like to feel contented and happy. I think the search for happiness is probably older than our kind because proto-humans most likely preferred happiness over any other mental state, too. In some way, don’t many varieties of creatures enjoy happiness?
The problem with the human search for happiness is that we’ve made it complicated. We put conditions on happiness. We might think that if we earned more money, or had a wonderful partner, or lived in a nicer home, or someone else was President…then we could be happy. Conditional happiness sets us up for a never-ending state of dissatisfaction.
“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”–Gertrude Stein
In today’s context, conditional happiness has been nearly usurped by consumerism. We don’t even need to leave home to go shopping. Not only is our dream product of the moment advertised and sorted by algorithms, we only need to click a few buttons and have it sent directly to us, wherever we are. In many cases, we are further assured of having our satisfaction guaranteed. After all, if we’re satisfied, then we’ll be happy.
There is some measure of truth that physical activity is conducive to happiness. Science has discovered that vigorous or strenuous work and exercise causes our bodies to release endorphins. In effect, endorphins are like automatic doses of happy pills. Fortunately, the authorities have not yet come up with legal reasons to arrest us for this type of drug use. So, if we want to feel happier, we can move some weights around or go for a walk. As long as a person is physically able to do this, she can experience overall well-being and inner happiness.
There are many paths we can choose in our search for happiness. Many of us find joy in public service. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Therefore, if a person wants to be very happy, he will exploit his talents and powers in service to others.
While considering the exploitation of one’s own talents and powers, many of us have discovered that spending our time creating art or crafting things or spending time with a hobby or sport brings another sort of happiness. The joy of feeling “at one with” whatever we’re doing is amazing.
There is something amazing about letting go of our addiction to Schadenfruede–feeling joy at the expense of others’ misfortune. It seems counterintuitive that when we are sincerely happy about someone else’s success, our state of happiness can increase, too. But it’s true that being happy for someone else’s well-being does indeed trigger our own happiness.
This pleasant, positive emotional state is not necessarily a matter of intensity. It is a light-hearted feeling of rhythm, balance, and the sensation of being in harmony with the Universe. It’s difficult to define it with words, but we instantly recognize happiness when it engulfs our minds. When happiness appears, you might feel like a different person.
I remember an often repeated saying that the father of one of my childhood pals enjoyed: “If you are a good person and share happiness, good things will come to you.” That saying seems to have been that man’s overall philosophy. He certainly was a joy to be around.
A great thing about moments of happiness is that happiness often takes us by surprise. We might say that we don’t seize those moments, but those moments of happiness seize us. It’s the serendipity of happiness that makes happiness even more pleasant.
The medieval astronomer, mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam recommended, “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”