HappinessI’ve been thinking lately about happiness.  What is happiness?  How is happiness attained?  How is it sustained?

In light of all the negativity, divisiveness, and mean-spiritedness we witness on a daily basis; in the face of the political rancor and the self-centeredness of the religious, I think it is important that we look at happiness, not to try to force ourselves to be happy but to learn what it is so that we can work toward it.

One thing needs to be clear: there is a huge difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is dependent on our circumstances.  If all is going well, we tend to be happy.  If things go south, we tend to be come unhappy.  Joy, on the other hand, is not so fickle.  Joy remains steady in spite of circumstances. While happiness can be a fair-weather friend, joy is a constant companion.
That’s not to say happiness is not important.  It is!  Happiness is something that improves our lives in many ways, from a sense of well-being to better physical health.  Who doesn’t want to be happy?

The problem is that we try to force happiness.  We convince ourselves that happiness is “just around the corner” – however far down the road that corner may be; that happiness will come when we get that promotion at work, or the latest iphone, or our dream home, or….you get the picture.  In other words, we believe that happiness comes as the result of something we gain, something we acquire through our hard work, or something that is given to us.  But it’s not true.  Yes, we experience momentary happiness when we get what we want, but that happiness is fleeting; soon after we gain it, we move on to the next desire.  It’s a constant hamster wheel: we are always chasing after that next attainment that will bring us happiness; it’s always that “one more thing.”

Our forefathers wrote that one of our “inalienable rights” is the pursuit of happiness.  That means that we are free to pursue whatever makes us happy so long as it does not cause harm to another.  But the truth is, happiness is not something that is pursued, as if happiness itself is the goal or the end product.  The chief cause of unhappiness is the constant drive to have happiness.  We get in our own way when we pursue happiness as if it were a trophy to gain.  Chasing happiness can be a very self-centered pursuit.

The truth is, happiness is something that ensues, not something that is pursued.  Genuine happiness comes as the result of doing something other than chasing after happiness itself.  Put another way, real and lasting happiness ensues as the result of doing something that is meaningful, something beyond ourselves: serving others, working for justice, getting our hands dirty for the environment, and any number of other life-enhancing work.

That means that happiness is not always easy.  Happiness takes work, literally.

The great thing about happiness is that it can, if allowed to ensue, lead to joy which results in an unwavering sense of contentment with life, come what may.  While happiness may be fleeting if chased after for its own sake, it does result in an abiding joy when allowed to come to us.