Are you happy? Do you find yourself seeking happiness? And if so, where do you look?
If you come up short on answers to those questions, don’t fret; they’re all trick questions, focused on the achievement of happiness, rather than the experience of it. Let me explain: We are often conditioned to think of happiness as a destination. Buy this, master that, meet this person, support that cause, and you will be transported to that ephemeral, but much sought after place called being happy. When you arrive at being happy, you will feel contented, comforted, and full of joy. The other, perhaps darker feelings, like sadness, anger, and fear do not take up residence in this place, in being happy. Or so the promise goes.
But happiness isn’t a place or an endpoint. You won’t find it in Hawaii or at Disney World. It’s not hiding somewhere behind a job promotion or within a bigger house. Rather, happiness, like all of the other emotions, defines the contours of a state. Sometimes it is present by itself, but we often experience it in conjunction with other feelings. We call these muddled states things like bittersweetness, cautious optimism, and guilty pleasure.
As is true with our experience of every other emotion, our grasp on happiness is fleeting. We feel it, and then we don’t. Contrary to what many pop psychology texts and certainly most advertisers would have you think, that’s exactly how happiness is supposed to work.