We live in a pro-happiness world. No, seriously. I am not a hermit. I know that there is a 24/7 barrage of bad news right now. But surely you have figured out that this is how eyeballs are held and teed up for advertisers who are selling us…wait for it…a way to feel better.
Right? We are all clear that commercial news is, first and foremost, a vehicle for advertisements – that’s how the whole thing works. So, keeping people watching is the most important thing. And nothing assures viewership like danger. The human brain has a very strong bias toward threat.
And then along come the products and services to make us feel good (or at least less bad) – beer, snacks, clothing, cars, lifehacks, time savers, medical miracles, supplements, accessories, appliances, teeth whiteners… We are only one click away from whatever we need to be happy.
I am not a grinch who is against happiness. At. All. I love happiness. I love a good hearty belly laugh or powerful feeling of contentment as much as anyone. I love how I feel when I eat dark chocolate, watch a beautiful sunset, or stream a really good/bad action movie.
But there is a rub. Being happy all the time – at least in the feeling good sense of the word – is impossible. And, even if it were possible, is that really what we want? Do we want to have a big, goofy grin on our face as someone tells us about a loss or major disappointment they are facing?
Pleasure and comfort certainly are aspects of a normal human life. However, they are not the norm to which every other emotional experience should be compared.
Sadness, anger, heartbreak, frustration, anxiety and stress all have their place in human experience. The goal of a good life is not to get rid of these emotions, but rather to work with them skillfully and peacefully.
The irony is that much of our struggle – for otherwise blessed human beings in a modern industrialized society – is created by our constant, compulsive pursuit of happiness. We have been taught to escape discomfort through eating, drinking, smoking, working, acquiring, achieving, dieting, exercising, posting, scrolling… Many of our strategies for feeling better are destructive to our health, wellbeing and relationships.
And there is one other thing – dissatisfaction. It is an evolutionary trait. Imagine what would have happened to our species if we were satisfied indefinitely by our last meal or our first kiss. We have dissatisfaction baked into our DNA for survival purposes. The problem is that we apply it to stuff that is not necessary for survival and we behave as if there is a way to be permanently satisfied.
My proposal? Awareness and acceptance. That’s it. We pay attention and we discover that emotions – all of them – come and go. We can accept that life contains the stuff we like and the stuff we don’t. We can accept that money, power, education, sex appeal, and fame do not keep discomfort from showing up. Neither do kindness, generosity, compassion, or service. There is no escape. Period.
We can put our energy into goals, commitments, and relationships that we value. We can live lives of purpose and meaning. And we will still experience unhappiness.
So what is the point? Fulfillment. Connection. Belonging. Mattering. Growth.
We don’t need to be happy all the time. We need to get up in the morning and do something worthwhile. We need to act on behalf of something larger than our own temporary desire to feel good. We need to see that everyone struggles with something and then we need to do what we can to help.
This is what gives our life stability and direction as the waves of circumstance and emotion keep rolling through – acting on actual needs. And then we go to sleep so that we are ready to do it all over again as long as life allows.