Is The Pursuit of Happiness an Illusion?
Recently my wife and I had a beautiful dinner in a great beachfront restaurant, all while gazing at a majestic sky bursting with vibrant colors as the sun completed its slow descent. We drove home along the winding roads in a Maserati as the sound system vibrated with music that could not help but uplift one’s spirit. As wonderful as these physical experiences were, I found myself in a very contemplative mood as I tried to sleep. I could not quite put my finger on the reason that I could not accept the experience for simply what it was. After all, living in the moment is something to embrace, not to judge. But the nagging sense prevailed that these physical illusions were nothing but distractions from tricksters that keep us from our real purpose. In the long run, physical rushes do nothing for our spiritual evolvement or happiness.
Are you happy? It’s a simple query, but complicated to answer. Most people equate happiness with the materialist concepts of physical possessions, status, job, family, appearance and acceptance, and their degree of happiness is commensurate with these constructs. So, if a person is wealthy, has a great job, a perfect family, is attractive, has many friends and is accepted in social circles, happiness is a no-brainer. And why not, possessions bring freedom, acceptance and power, all measures of who we are as a successful human being.
It’s also the reason the world is so fucked up
The search for what brings happiness is nothing new, and it is obvious why the answer remains so elusive. Most of us know people with all of the above trappings of success that are miserable. Something is missing that they can’t quite identify. We also know people with no such baggage that are inexplicably happy. When we consider those who espouse different routes to happiness it is not unlike the political spectrum – each side is convinced that their politicians offer the right blueprint for success, and rarely do they waiver in their beliefs.
What some have come to learn is that happiness should not be a pursuit. It’s something that comes from within based upon thought, inspiration, compassion, empathy and love. Those things cannot come from chasing ghosts. Fancy cars, big houses, expensive clothes, gadgets, facelifts, and mind numbing drugs can be temporary fixes on the road to bliss, but are mere illusions in the big picture. Does that mean that we should not aspire to nice things? Of course not, we just need to always put things in proper perspective.
Talk to someone whose life was shattered due to the loss of a loved one and ask them for their views on what is important. Once we are stripped down to nothing we tend to reevaluate the things that matter the most. Any degree of hope and comfort no longer comes from the outside world. The search for meaning and purpose can only take place from within. If we can manage to change the way we think we may find the peace that we seek, and happiness is a subconscious by-product that just happens.
So, are there practical things that you can do to move towards happiness, or is this just New Age bullshit? Here are some suggestions:
· Take a full day to stop running in automatic mode and truly experience what surrounds you. Admire the flight patterns of the birds, smell the rain, soak in the vibrancy of color, ingest the music, see the patterns and forms in the leaves, let the written words soak in – simply observe and experience all day as you put judgment and habit aside.
· Try meditation. Nothing elaborate is necessary if you haven’t done it before – a simple repetition of breathing in, holding and exhaling will suffice. Try to become a blank slate as you do it. When your mind wanders, that’s normal, just let it go and re-focus.
· Try volunteering for a cause, or perform simple acts of kindness as you go through the day. You may find that these things provide more joy than Botox.
So if you believe that we are on this Earth for a purpose, is it more likely that it is for the pursuit of happiness or to uncover meaning? I guess the better question would be if one can have true happiness without a foundation of empathy, compassion and connection. Without such a base upon which to build happiness is most likely just an illusion. Our physical senses often belie the truth as we seek quick fixes and instant gratification. It is more likely that our inner non-physical senses are the indicators upon which we should rely.
Some disagree and are convinced that the ones who accumulate the most toys win the game of life. They believe that our actions have no repercussions, karma is a bunch of woo-woo crap, and when you die you are forever extinguished. Perhaps they are right and we are deluding ourselves with mindless wishful thinking. I choose to believe that our thoughts matter and our collective consciousness can accomplish the extraordinary. Time will tell who is right, but my gut tells me that happiness will find you if you lay the foundation.
Gratitude, compassion and love are the currency we will use to evolve here and in the realms to follow. So, I will continue to enjoy the sunsets, but always try to put the rest in proper perspective.