“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
Viktor E. Frankl
Here’s some bad news for you. It’s quite probable you have the belief that you should pursue happiness. Wake up! This is impossible! Happiness is not something you can “reach”.
I hate to break it to you like that. Life is all about ups and downs. And it’s not just your life: this applies to everyone.
The good news, however, is that there is also a different way you can look at your life that is a hundred times more useful.
The Rat Race: Nobody Cares About Your Massive House
When you view a typical commercial on television, you would quickly think that happiness can be bought. It basically comes down to something like: “buy a nice car and people will think you’re awesome” or “buy a bigger house and everyone will like you”. So we work long and hard to be successful and be able to buy these kinds of things. Or we work with the realization we will never be able to buy these things.
But tell me, honestly: do you really care if somebody else has a massive house? I really couldn’t care less. So why would other people care about your massive house? They don’t. It’s not worth making yourself miserable to achieve this. Consumption will most likely not make you happier in the long run, including buying houses, cars, etc.
People also think you can’t be unhappy if “you have it all”. A nice job, money, sports car, family, etc. But, of course, a lot of the people who seem to have it all are not happy at all.
This is because happiness is a result; it should not be chased after.
Why Chasing Happiness Does Not Work in the Long Run
“But I feel so good when I buy something!” That’s true. You do feel better when you buy something. This is because your body releases dopamine when you do that. It’s like an internal reward: “drugs” for the mind. Dopamine is also released when you achieve something, such as finishing a big project at work. The major drawback, however, is that a dopamine rush only lasts for a very short while. You lose it after the first day or couple of days after you’ve achieved something.
I’m definitely not implying here that you should stop achieving anything. What is important, however, is that this achievement does not make you miserable in the meantime. Is your goal something you really want to pursue? And is the related work inherently satisfying? I’m not stating you should always be happy about what you’re doing, but you need to have the idea that you’re working for the greater good.
This is because helping others with your work (be it at home or at your job) creates and improves lasting relationships. When you do this, your body releases the hormone oxytocin. This is also part of your internal reward system. However, the advantage of oxytocin is that it lasts much longer. And it creates cohesiveness between people, which in turn extends your lifespan.
Not Pursuing Happiness, but Something Else…
Viktor Frankl was a holocaust survivor. He was sent to several concentration and (mass) extermination camps. Yet he survived. He survived under the direst of conditions, even while most of his family had passed away – including his wife, father and mother.
Did you think he was happy in those camps?
He found the strength to carry on because he had a purpose in his life. What kept him going was that he wanted to finish his magnum opus. He started his life’s work before he was taken by the Germans. His writings were destroyed when the German’s took him from his home.
When he was liberated by allied forces, he finished his most well-known work “Man’s search for meaning”. In this inspiring book, he laid the groundwork for logotherapy (logos being the Greek word for “meaning” and therapy is “I heal”). Both in the concentration camp and afterwards as a professor he helped people by giving meaning to their lives. His purpose in life was to bring purpose to other people’s lives, which he did in a long life after Auschwitz.
To drive home the point of this post: stop pursuing happiness. Happiness is not in your control. People will not always respect you. It’s likely you can’t buy everything you want. You may be treated unfairly and something may and will happen that upset’s your life.
By pursuing meaning in your life and by making a positive contribution to the world, you will find your drive. Happiness will ensue, as Frankl mentions in one of his works.
What do you live for?
Something to think about.
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I work as a finance professional for a large tech company in the Netherlands. As part of my professional development, I love reading and blogging about personal effectiveness, productivity and mindfulness. I have a lovely family and in the time I have left after family life, work and blogging I spend my time in Kung-Fu training and running.