Is our constant Search for Happiness bad for us?
That sounds like a nonsensical question. How can happiness and the search for it possibly be bad? Well I’ve just ordered a new book: The Other Side of Happiness by Dr Brock Bastian and it’s really got me thinking.
When I’m giving a talk, I ask the audience the question:” What do we want out of life?” Adults will often come up with answers like a nice house, nice family and a nice car. My reply to that is” “That’s not enough; we need to be happy” The problem is that most people don’t really know what makes them happy.
They’ve never had the chance to explore it at a deeper level. This is a major part of the work I do.
But am I encouraging the constant search for happiness? Am I missing something huge about not being happy? Dr Brock reckons that, and I quote:
“Our addiction to positivity and the pursuit of pleasure is actually making us miserable. Without some pain, we have no real way to achieve and appreciate the kind of happiness that is true and transcendent.”
He argues that in today’s society happiness has become a marker of success, whilst hardships are viewed as personal weakness. We increasingly try to eradicate pain through medication and by insulating ourselves from risk and offence, despite being the safest generation that has ever lived.
Dr Bastian encourages us to live a more fearless life. Indeed the most thrilling moments of our lives are often balanced on a knife-edge between pleasure and pain, whether it’s finding your true love or finishing your first marathon. This is because pain and the threat of loss, literally increase our capacity for happiness, make us stronger, more resilient, more connected to others and more attuned to what really matters.
Dr Bastian’s conclusion is that suffering and sadness are neither incompatible with happiness, nor incidental to it: they are a necessary ingredient for emotional well-being.
I think he’s right. We are over-thinking the pursuit of constant happiness and beating ourselves up for not having it. In addition, in trying to keep ourselves constantly safe (even though, as a generation, we are the safest humanity has ever been), we are missing out on the excitement that used to be much more frequent in our lives.
This is particularly true of the way we bring up kids today; parents are constantly trying to keep them safe. Whereas careful exposure to a little danger encourages self sufficiency and self confidence, something today’s kids are really struggling with.
This also ties in with social phenomena like the addiction to dangerous sports and the armies of middle-aged men hitting the roads every weekend on spindly 2 wheeled modes of transport. It has also underlined an important principle I teach, which is to regard disasters and failures as food for growth.
Shit happens: we just need to take the learning.
So what do you think?
Does our search for constant happiness, a pipe dream if ever I heard of one, limit our lives?
Let me know. You can reply to the blog below or to the Facebook post or you can reach me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.