Do you? I don’t.
Don’t get me wrong; I do want my children to be happy, but not as their primary objective. I want them to do the right thing, and find happiness that way. This is not just a “do the right thing” blog. Well, it is a bit of that, but at its core it is a blog about finding genuine, deep-seated happiness. The kind of happiness that goes beyond just being happy, and enters the realm of saturating you with joy. Filling your pores with good feelings (Almost rearranging your molecules.) And you get the level satisfaction with your chosen path that will help you deal with life’s inevitable – and often unfair – frequent speed bumps and occasional tragedies.
Looking for what makes you happy and then simply doing that makes for some thin soup. Skipping school or work might make some happy. Unanticipated school closures make most students happy. A power outage at work that forces the enterprise to close might make some employees happy. And what do they do with that happy day off? Likely absolutely nothing. The next day, they are back at it, with the day off nothing but an unproductive 24 hours, and nothing better to show for it than the hope for another surprise day off.
Happy activities are often associated with easy, or with what your friends are doing, or something temporary that creates little, if any, lasting good. And not only is there nothing wrong with any of this, all of these motivations can be good, and often necessary. But not as a main driver in your life.
Let’s take the other approach for a moment; starting with the right thing and finding a way to be happy with that path.
This approach turns some basic assumptions on their heads. The common assumption is that doing the right thing is hard, grinding, and you need to suffer through it. And then get to the fun stuff that makes you happy. The approach we are talking about in this blog argues that doing the right thing is indeed hard, and can be a grind from time-to-time. But at the other side of that grind is happiness that can be found nowhere else.
An easy major in college may make you happy at the time with a non-challenging load and lots of free time, but where is the long-term satisfaction? And what about that relatively easy or low-responsibility job? That job might be comfortable and non-challenging to keep, but you might hate it. According to the Conference Board, in 2014 52.3% said they were unhappy at work, compared to 61.1% who said they liked their jobs in 1987. Anything worthwhile takes focus and work. And only the worthwhile can provide deep, lasting happiness. Easy? No way. Worth it? Absolutely.
I can hear some of you asking, “How do I find the right thing?” Some suggest that the right thing for you is at the intersection of what is needed “out there”, what you are good at, and where you
can make the kind of money that will give you what you need. Others would argue that the way to find the right thing, is “Don’t look for yourself, create yourself.” I am good with either approach, or a combination. I lean toward the combination, myself. The advantage to these approaches is they lead you away from the “happy first” thinking while stimulating you to find the right thing for you.
When I was a young undergraduate philosophy major, my Eastern Philosophy professor was fond of teaching about things that sounded like complete and utter BS to me. Things like this: In order to get to your goal, you must first let it go. Let it go? How on God’s earth could letting go of a goal get you to it? Push. Drive. Charge! That’s what I’d been taught. Over time – decades, actually – I have learned that to get somewhere I very much want to go, I need to relax, think almost to the point of meditation, and hold my goal in an open hand. (Sometimes, trying easier is the key.) As I would contemplate my goal in a non-fixated state, powerful things would happen. Clarity and confidence would come to me, often replacing doubt and frustration. The goal would become more real, sometimes changing, but never lessening. I was then ready to go back at it. And get it.
The lesson here is that in order to get to happiness, you need to let go of it as the goal. Find what the the right thing is for you. (You may need to try a few “right things.”) And don’t worry; you will indeed find it, if you keep looking. And when you find it, and work hard at it over time, happiness will appear. Powerful, feel-it-all-over-you-body happiness. Not eternal, earthly bliss. But real happiness nonetheless. Likely right about the point in your journey that you had forgotten that “being happy” might have once been your primary goal.
Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200 feet in Colorado Springs.
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