We, humans, spend our lives in pursuit of happiness — why wouldn’t we? Happiness feels good. We envision images of a carefree life littered with unlimited opportunities and limited stress once we reach the coveted emotion.
I get it. I spent the majority of my twenties hunting for happiness. Convinced it laid in the next job, new friends — and especially boyfriends. Being happy was my ultimate goal as if joy were something given to me, instead of something I made on my own.
It’s not as if I was miserable or depressed. There were some gleaming moments when I thought I had achieved my goal, only for it to fall apart days or weeks later. The unfairness consumed me. It felt as if happiness was yanked from my grasp and I had to start all over — from square one — again. The harder I searched for true happiness, the further away it felt.
Then I learned, according to science, actively pursuing happiness often leads to the exact opposite result.
Happiness is Fleeting
Most of my life was spent under the assumption that happiness could be sustained if I could just try hard enough, think of the perfect plan, and find the secret everyone else around me seemed to know.
The truth is, happiness is fleeting. Once we have it we want to hold on tight to protect it. Except just like sand, it falls out of the cracks in our fingers when we clench our fists to hold it tight.
Itai Ivtzan Ph.D. explains in an article on Psychology Today why we can’t seem to maintain feelings of constant happiness. It has to do with two types of happiness we experience.
This is the shortest-lived happiness, which is actually more pleasure than happiness. It’s the feeling of enjoying chocolate cake, getting a raise, or anything else that gives you a momentary feeling of joy.
These pleasurable moments are fleeting because they can’t last. Eventually, the delicious chocolate cake will be gone, and you can’t get a raise every day at work. In other words, you feel really good at the moment, but eventually, your euphoria will wear off.
This is the happiness you feel on a deeper level. It’s when your values and beliefs are reflected in your life choices and activities. In other words, you aren’t just living life, you’re living a meaningful life. Living in eudaimonic happiness is experiencing long-lasting and deep happiness, passion, and vitality. It’s the ultimate goal we all want.
It sounds like paradise, but it doesn’t come without a cost. To get there you have to overcome challenges, internal questions, and doubt. Not to mention the unpredictability of life itself. Yet, the end result of doing something you love feels even better because of — not despite — your struggles to get there.
Happiness is a Pit Stop
Eventually, I was forced to move home with my parents the month before my thirtieth birthday. Which to me felt like a gigantic step in the exact opposite direction of happiness. A year later, I was working at a job in the travel industry and was sent with a group of coworkers to Italy for ten nights. I was happy… for those ten nights at least. After returning from my trip I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t happy either. I was complacent.
Living life in the comfort-zone is tempting. It feels secure, but it also leads to stagnation, which then leads to boredom. In other words, you stop moving forward in life — and not just in regard to your job, living situation, or relationships. You stop taking risks, you don’t challenge yourself, you stop trying new things, and decrease your ambition. In fact, more often complacency is regarded as the enemy of mental health. And that’s exactly what happened to me.
I grew bored with my job and frustrated at the bureaucracy of corporate life. One trip a year no longer made my monotonous days worth it. I stopped dating altogether, pushed my friends away, and retreated further into myself.
Feeling comfortable might feel safe, but it’s not the same as happiness. So it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to consider that happiness isn’t a final destination, but rather a signal that we’ve overcome obstacles.
Through eudaimonic happiness, we have to overcome these barriers in order to feel a deep feeling of accomplishment and peace. But within days, months, or possibly years, we get bored and begin to crave new experiences.
Usually, that new thing requires more trials and tribulations to achieve so we begin again. Therefore, fulfilling happiness is more like a pit stop along our journey. We receive it only after we achieve our accomplishments.
Thankfully, my curiosity never stopped. One day, uninterested in doing my job, I wandered down a Google rabbit hole and stumbled upon something called copywriting, then content creation, then digital marketing, and how to build WordPress websites. I devoured everything I could find and self-taught myself for months, gaining more happiness along the way.
Then I realized something so obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. I didn’t want to write content for companies, I wanted to figure out how to write for myself. By this point, my confidence in myself and my abilities had increased thanks to everything I’d learned. Mustering every scrap of internal courage I could find, I did it. You’re reading the proof and guess what? I’m happy. Truly happy.
We’re flooded with articles, movies, and social media telling us that if we buy XYZ products, take that vacation, or meet the right person, then we’ll be happy. The truth is, genuine eudaimonic happiness is your reward for overcoming hard things — not through buying the latest gadget.
We all have our own journeys and obstacles to overcome in life. When you view happiness as a pit stop, instead of the final destination, you can use it to gauge how close you are to being the person you want to be and celebrate your victories along the way.
If you’re unhappy in your life, then take a moment to figure out what exactly is wrong and what you can do to fix it. Know it’s okay if you can’t get it all worked out right now, just make a list of what’s standing in your way and start correcting what you do have control over. You have it in you, and happiness is waiting to reward you for your hard work.