The relentless pursuit of happiness is damaging to our psyche. Most people think of happiness as elation, pleasure or positive feelings. But pleasure and elation are fleeting, and when happiness is associated with these feelings, people expecting long-term ‘happiness’ are setting themselves up for failure.
I believe people confuse happiness with perpetual elation, instead of contentment and peace of mind. As Aristotle wisely put it, “Happiness is self-contentedness.”
It is essential to work on having our mind in a neutral state of calmness - while enjoying the fleetingness of joy and pleasure, managing the peaks of fear and anger, and coming to terms with the depths of sadness.
Contentment places your mind in this neutral state of calmness, where your main emotional states are not that of anger, fear, sadness and enjoyment. Contentment enables you to appreciate what you have, instead of experiencing the angst of wanting what you don’t have. And it comes from within, it doesn’t depend on external factors.
Gratitude steers you towards contentment, and there is much to be grateful for – particularly if you have good health. Except for life and death matters, everything else can be resolved.
A big part of happiness is also having meaning in your life, as opposed to searching for the meaning of life. My conclusion on life is that we exist by chance. No one can provide any certainty as to what was before and what will be after we leave this world. What truly matters is the life we have now: how we choose to live it and the purpose we associate with it.
I realise I’m becoming something of a preacher, yet I was so confused by philosophy at university. I couldn’t wrap my little mind around those complex matters. What I seek now is good simple philosophy and principles to live by, and to be at peace with myself.