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Why Striving for Happiness Is a Miserable Mistake

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It was Elbert Hubbard, the American artist and philosopher, who said, “Life is just one damn thing after another”. Inevitably, we are always going to have problems to deal with and inevitably going to find ourselves in a variety of situations; some of which will make us happy and some will make us unhappy.

To a greater or lesser extent, life just happens to us all. The sooner we come to a point of acceptance about this, the sooner we are likely to find peace and more importantly contentment. However, you can’t find contentment by just trying to be happy. There are far too many factors outside our circle of immediate control to contend with.

Even the very word itself is derived from the Norse “hap” which means luck or chance. “Happy” is a silly, childish word full of connotations of birthday cakes, parties, days at the beach and laughter. It’s a pleasant but transient state, fleeting and shallow. Sometimes we are happy and sometimes we are sad. It’s surface level and fluctuates day to day.

Happiness is temporary

Trying to be happy is like clutching at straws, throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping some will stick or nibbling just the icing on the cake. Instead, you need to be working on contentment as contentment is the cake itself, the bedrock and the foundation. If you can find contentment then happiness will naturally follow.

Your level of contentment is the context. You can be transiently happy or sad on the outside yet still be firmly content at your very core. You are essentially, and fundamentally still content even though the events of the moment might be making you happy, sad, or hurting you.

“Happiness is nothing but temporary moments here and there – and I love those. But I would be bored out of my mind if I were happy all the time.” – Zoe Saldana

What does it mean to be content?

Luckily, whilst happiness is an emotional state, short term and largely controlled by extrinsic forces, contentment is much more within our grasp as it’s controlled by internal choices. Contentment is to a much greater extent, a way of being and thinking that we can cultivate and develop.

In it’s purest form it boils down to acceptance of the moment and gratitude for what we have got rather than what we haven’t. As the philosopher Diogenes the Wise said: “people have the most when they are most content with the least”. And that really is the key. Taking time to be in the present and to enjoy the current moment rather than constantly craving something “better”.

Contentment gives us an opportunity to enjoy life right now, not on the weekend and it’s the only way to true long term satisfaction. It’s not dependent on consumption, gaining things or life “going our way”. It’s a choice of perspective that allows us to be compassionate towards ourselves, to take time and to find satisfaction in the here and now rather than in the “if only” mentality that our consumerist society has conditioned us to believe in.

Contentment in “flow”

The ultimate expression of contentment in the moment is when you are in a state of what’s called “flow”. “Flow” is one of the most satisfying and contented states that a human being can experience. You might think that this might be when we are passively watching TV or relaxing but it’s actually when we are being creative and actively participating in an activity that we attain this state.

All of us have different activities that can trigger flow. Often, it will be something that we love doing or are maybe good at and it will be something that gives us a sense of self-identity and value. It will be the thing that fires you. The thing that makes you feel alive, the thing that, when you are doing it, makes time stand still.

You forget everything apart from the moment and, rather than fighting and forcing your body or brain to do stuff, it just sort of goes on glorious autopilot as if it was always meant to be doing “the thing.”

“Control of consciousness determines the quality of life.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Find your thing

If you can, find “your thing” and do more of it and start to identify yourself as someone who is a “thinger” (if that makes sense) rather than just all of the multitude of other roles you perform, then you will be well on the way to contentment. You will find that it centers you, gives you much more satisfaction in the moment and you will source contentment from within yourself rather than looking for it from external stimulation.

Finding your flow activity and developing it will give you the energy and the fortitude to battle through the rest of your messy and stressful life. It will become a haven of peace, a well of strength, a way of identifying yourself, giving you self-belief, purpose and self-confidence. If the thing is beautiful, central to your life and a well of strength then you have found contentment.

With “the thing” at the core of your being you will start to have an inner strength and energy that will filter into the other aspects of your life. You will have found long term satisfaction and an abundance of happy days will follow and, when you are unhappy and troubled by the world you will be solid and steadfast in your contentment.

Go and find out what your personal thing is. Love it, grow it and nurture it as the very centre of your quest to accept and be in the moment. Don’t waste your time looking for happiness, take control, alter your perspective and develop a habit of contentment. Only when you do this all the happiness in the world is yours for the taking.

What do you think about being content at your core to find long term satisfaction? Please let us know by leaving a comment below!

Image courtesy of Twenty20.com

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Nícia Cruz

    Aug 1, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    i agree with you. part of our happiness is to embrace the sad parts of life. i’m glad there are articles like this on the web that goes in a different direction than: have only positive thoughts and you’ll be happy.

    all things have a place in our lives. <3

  2. Tanrose

    Jul 5, 2017 at 10:01 am

    Thanks Andrew for this one. Really learn a lot about finding true happiness and growing it.

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