The Traps of Happiness
Happiness is always been this sort of ambiguous idea. Almost everyone has pondered what the true meaning of happiness is and how to get it. Is happiness something that is supposed to be guaranteed? Is it a feeling or something more in the background? Should I wait for it or do I have to actively go get it? Is there some sort of monthly subscription that I have to sign up for? Is there a free trial I can test out first?
So many of us are guilty of one big thing when it comes to happiness, chasing it. Why wouldn’t you chase happiness? Happiness is supposed to be something you have to actively pursue, right? You can’t just expect to get a free ride, right? However, then there are others that tell us that chasing happiness only makes it further away. They say you need to tend to your garden and let the butterflies come.
Personally, I don’t like the word happiness due to it being way too terribly broad (at least in how we use it). Is it a state of being, a situation, a feeling, an action? Without getting too deep into the ambiguity of the word, there are a couple of misunderstandings and traps that come with the idea of happiness. To avoid them is as simple as knowing them.
Sometimes we forget how slow evolution is and how not-so-long-ago our caveman days were. It takes hundreds of thousands if not millions of years for a species to make real drastic evolutionary changes. We were straight up banging rocks together less than a dozen thousand years ago. While I do believe there has been some heavy adaptation due to the drastic changes we have experienced, we are basically those same creatures. We do not have the brains of a being whose mission it is to ensure a healthy work life balance with yoga on the weekends.
Do you know what happened to the happy creatures around in the tribal era of humanity? They died. Their job wasn’t to be happy, it was to stay vigilant and aware of their surroundings. If humans were not able to predict, spot, and avoid danger, they would become the victims of whatever danger that was. The two biggest takeaways from this are the following two understandings that must be recognized:
The “Safety First” Mentality
We have the same minds as the caveman who were constantly aware and alert about their surroundings because they are the ones who survived and carried on their offspring. Because of this, we have this same mentality to always question and worry about our surroundings and situation. Instead of worrying about a 600 pound wild boar storming your camp, we have shifted to worrying about whether or not the boss might replace us or if our friends don’t like us very much.
I am definitely not saying that this inherent worry that we always have is good or bad. There are positive benefits to worrying like being prepared for possible harmful events. There are also negative outcomes like our declining mental state. All this is, is a reminder to remind yourself that it is completely natural to be in a worrying state even though nothing may be wrong. It is important to just understand that it might be our slowed rate of evolution playing with your mind.
Don’t Worry about Happy
Unless it is your number one life goal to be happy, sometimes you really shouldn’t worry about being happy. Think about this. If you lived back when all humans lived in small tribes fending for themselves in the wild, what would your day to day look like? You would have to hunt for your tribes food, be on the move for freshwater sources, be always alert and vigilant for any potential threats, and have to -from time to time- defend your village and family from hulking wild animals and attacking tribes.
This doesn’t sound like super happy living, but do you really think these people were sad? Probably not. They lived in tribes with each other because loneliness was death. The hardships of living gave them a great deal of purpose and belonging to keep the tribe alive and thriving. Boredom was nonexistent as there was always something that needed attention. The point is, just because someone isn’t living in a necessarily happy life doesn’t mean that it has to be a sad one. You can actually live a life that is not necessarily happy, but it is filled with purpose, meaning, and belonging (but that does depend on your definition of the word as it is so confusingly vague).
I’m Not in the Mood
You can’t always rely on how you feel for motivation to act. So much of the time, we go into our job and get our work done no matter how we feel that day. However, when it comes to our own personal pursuits, it is all reliant on our mood and motivation to get anything done. This is such a trap. It is crucial to learn how to move forward with action even while lacking motivation. If we only relied on our good feelings to get anything done then it would be so difficult to pinpoint and summon those feelings when it was actually time to work. We would hardly get anything done since we’d be beating ourselves up for not being in the right elevated mindset to work.
Happiness is Not Our Natural State
I am sorry to bring up happiness and Social Media because it is so overplayed, but just let me do it real quick. We see everybody on social media in their most elevated state. We look at their pictures, they are always happy in them, so they must always be happy. We get this idea in our head that happiness is supposed to be the default of our emotional state. We begin to think that there is something wrong with us due to us not being happy 80% of the day.
The problem is that there absolutely is no default for our emotional state. Unless you consider a literal emotionless existence, there is not a fallback emotion that the mind jumps to whenever nothing is going on. In reality, our emotional state is a constant flow of up and down and left and right. At one moment we are angry at our broken coffee maker, the next we are confused on how to fix it. We get a slight burst of excitement when we forgot what we ordered on Amazon and we are opening up the package. We are slightly disappointed when we remember that it is just more plastic Tupperware.
We should never grow to hate our variety of emotion. Our emotions are a beautiful dance and rhythmic story of our existence. We wouldn’t like to watch a movie where everything is going great and continues to go great, but we like to think we want to live in that movie. In reality, we need the hardships of life to remind us how good the good times are. We would never feel accomplished if everything was handed to us. We would never feel lucky or grateful if everything was a sure thing.
Happiness is Not a Feeling
Never ever chase the feeling of happiness. Those are just chemicals in your brain, as we know. It is impossible for those chemicals to always be firing. Even if they were always cranked to 10, then 10 would become the norm. 10 would eventually not be enough and we would need them to be at a 13 in order to feel good again.
This is why true “happiness” cannot be a feeling that we experience. If it was, then it would be extremely natural to only feel it sometimes or not very often.
Even the things that give us the best feelings in life are also the source of a lot of negative emotions. We have friends that uplift us, while at the same time causing so much drama and grief. We have families that love and support us, but we all know our families can give us a huge headache as well.
Life is not supposed to be this ever increasing stream of happiness. At the same time it should not be an avoidance of the painful feelings as well.
Just a Realization
Take this for what it is worth to you. This is just something I realized from my past. All of the times I went through a difficult stage alone, I really don’t enjoy looking back at them. They are not pleasant experiences for me to recall. However, even the most difficult and heart wrenching times of my life have become sources of pleasant memories when they are experienced with someone else. That have been the source of great friendships and strong bonds that would not have been made otherwise. Good people always seem to make the bad times better.