The pursuit of happiness raised many questions for myself. Having just completed a course on personality theory, a discussion question that arose was: What is happiness?
There were some who believed it was an emotion, a temperament, a state of mind, and some, a weakness. What intrigued me the most was the ever engrained and proclaimed pursuit of happiness in our culture, and the notion that it has an absolute end to it.
A Source of Discontentment:
This emphasis on the search and chase of happiness is what I believe to be the source of discontent for the many who think that happiness is the cure to their discontent. That if they are only always happy, all would be great. This can become disappointing for many when they realize that happiness is impermanent, and they struggle to keep happiness from changing. For example, it is a valued characteristic to have a friend who can relate and empathize with you when you are feeling grief or saddened, it would be frustrating and perhaps hurtful, if a friend was too concerned with staying “happy” that they couldn’t be around you, or couldn’t relate to you by showing empathy. Thus, with any extreme, one can be “too happy” - especially when it becomes completely about themselves and does not consider others happiness as well. To be able to relate and empathize with others is as valuable and rewarding as feeling personal happiness.
This leads to my proposal of a new perspective - changing our ideal human state from one of complete happiness, to one of complete peace…
Happiness VS. Peace -What’s the Difference?
The most basic definition, which does not encompass the entirety of what both mean, on Dictionary.com is:
- Happiness: Good fortune; pleasure; contentment, joy.
- Peace: Cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension (lack of harmony)
When we know peace, we accept that everything comes and goes - even happiness. We are free from the conflicted judgement of what it means to be happy and unhappy. When joy is felt it can be experienced in the purest and fullest fashion until it passes. When sadness is felt it can be experienced in the same way knowing that it is as valuable as happiness, and provides us the ability after to experience and appreciate joy even more fully. It is a constant ebb and flow of varying human states. Peace provides us the freedom from judging one state or experience being less valuable than the other. Of course we should all aim to not have as many unpleasant moments in life, but what I mean to emphasize is that it is inevitable. And that’s okay. Be at peace with it, a constant that can’t disappoint, and know that it is what it means to be human, experience and then let go.
All is Impermanent - Find Peace in Life:
I leave you with a story told by Carolyn Nordstrom (2012), from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. She was addressing happiness and it’s link to struggle of justice and concern for the soul of humanity. This story reflects the necessity to understand that happiness and pain are impermanent, and that finding peace in the most difficult situations of life allows one to find the happiness for oneself as well:
“Two Mozambican friends of mine who did not know each other ended up at my dinner table in Berkley, along with a few local academics. To me, knowing Mozambique, their conversation was normal: they asked about their homes and families, enjoyed finding mutual acquaintances, and extended sympathy for loved ones harmed or killed in the war. Shortly thereafter, one made a joke on a neutral topic, and they both laughed together. The Westerners looked uncomfortable, and finally one asked: ‘How can you laugh at a time like this, when you’re talking about losing loved ones in war?’ The two Mozambicans shared a knowing look, and one replied: ‘How can you not?’” (p.13)
Happiness, laughter, pain, and suffering are impermanent - experience and let go…
Reflect on your pursuit of happiness, and may you strive to find peace in all expressions in life.