If you are like nearly everyone else on this planet, your deepest desire is to be happy. The problem is, happiness cannot be found. How completely un-American for me to say this! After all, embedded in our Declaration of Independence is not only a right to BE happy, but the right to PURSUE happiness. But did you know that it is actually the pursuit of happiness that will forever keep you from being happy?
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl wrote:
Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
In other words, the best way to find happiness is to stop looking for it. Embedded into our Declaration of Independence, and our national consciousness (a far deeper problem), is a way of achieving happiness that will prevent happiness from ever being achieved. This, tragically, is exactly how most people spend most of their lives — trying to find happiness.
But the happiest people are those who long ago stopped trying to be happy and learned to simply live completely in whatever the present moment affords. Pursuit, by definition, is about what you do not have. But the present moment is the only moment that will ever be available to you. If you cannot learn to be happy in the present moment, regardless of what it consists of, you will never be happy. As long as you think happiness is a state that you will at some point “achieve” after a time of “pursuit,” you will be chronically disappointed. If you do not learn how to be happy in the present moment, then when that long-dreamed-of day finally arrives (if it ever does), you will not know how to be happy in that moment either — because that moment will then be the present moment.
As long as you are focused on “finding happiness,” you are constantly conveying to yourself the messages that 1) you are not happy now; and 2) you cannot be happy now. But perhaps the most dangerous message you convey is that happiness is all about finding the right set of circumstances — a spouse that never hurts your feelings, a house that doesn’t break down too often, a car that offers a certain set of comforts, money in abundance, friends who are always available to you, weather that often enough suits your fancy, being in good health, or being able to maintain a specific mood or state of mind. The problem, of course, is that ultimately none of these things are entirely up to you. Just when one of them starts going right, others will start to go wrong. You have no doubt experienced this all of your life.
So what are you left with? If happiness cannot be found by pursuit, how it is found? Frankl nailed it. Happiness only ensues “as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” In other words, happiness only comes by forgetting about being happy and selling yourself completely out for the sake of a cause or another human being. Jesus said, “The one who seeks to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life will find it.”
This is the irony of happiness. Find something worth dying for, and you will have found something worth living for. And when you have found something worth living and dying for, and you live every moment of your life for that person or purpose, you will suddenly realize you are happy. But as long as you are constantly asking yourself the question, “Am I happy yet?” the answer will forever be a resounding “No.”