The Pursuit of Happiness

I have been thinking a lot about happiness lately. Maybe because it often seems so elusive to me. Don’t get me wrong. I am hugely grateful for the beautiful life that I have. I have moments of great joy, but I am on a perpetual quest for more meaning in life. Or what it means to be truly happy.

In an effort to find some answers, I have buried myself in books for about a year now. Probably not a coincidence, it was about the same time that I decided to launch my blog online. I started looking for insight and inspiration by reading memoirs, but that morphed into a more recent obsession with self-help books. Here is the list of some of the books that I have read:

Amy Poehler’s Yes Please

Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist

Carole King’s A Natural Woman

Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior

Maria Shriver’s I’ve Been Thinking

Andrea Jarrell’s I’m The One Who Got Away

Annabelle Gurwitch’s Wherever You Go, There They Are

Michael Ausiello Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies

Dan Harris’ 10% Happier

Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles

Brene Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)

Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In

Nell Scovell’s Just The Funny Parts

Sarah Wilson’s First We Must Make The Beast Beautiful

Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization

Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Art of Power

Amy Poehler attributes her success to her love of laughter and relentlessly pursuing her dream to make people laugh.

Glennon Doyle Melton claims that after her life bottomed out she found God, yoga and built a community through telling her truth in writing.

Maria Shriver finds solace and power in her relationship to God.

Saran Wilson fights her anxiety and depression through exercise, diet, and meditation.

Dan Harris found meditation to help manage his anxiety.

Jack Canfield bases his success on positive thoughts, setting specific goals and a plan of action to achieve those goals.

Shakti Gawain’s philosophy is based on positive self-talk and visualization.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s believes that power (happiness) comes from within. He believes it starts with gratitude, mindfulness and detachment from outcome. 

After reading all of these books, I came to the conclusion that there are a lot of common themes: Positive self-talk. Spirituality. Visualization. Exercise. Meditation. But, I also realized that the quest for happiness is a little like dieting. What works best for one person not might work for another. I think it is a lifelong quest to find what makes YOU feel both healthier… and happier.

Happiness is defined as “a state of well-being and contentment or joy.” I am most happy when I am with family or friends, doing yoga or playing tennis. But, when I am back at work and hitting roadblock after roadblock, I find myself always questioning if I am truly happy? Perhaps I am confusing success with happiness?

Success is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”  So when I am not accomplishing my professional goals, then I feel unhappy. This is a bad cycle to be in.

I am most happy when I feel productive and making a connection to others. So being busy makes me happy, but this is a slippery slope. Busy for the sake of being busy is not healthy. Not to mention, it can be exhausting to live in a perpetual state of activity. I needed to learn the art of just being without doing. The art of self-reflection without judgment. This is why I force myself to meditate every day. Like brushing my teeth or taking a shower, it is daily cleansing ritual… but I do it for my mind. It is only one tool in the toolbox for my lifetime battle of finding inner peace.

But meditation is not enough for me. As Dan Harris’ book title indicates - 10% Happier. So what about the other 90%?

Canfield and Gawain both advocate the process of self-love, specific goal setting and visualization. They are extremely action-oriented toward success. Success in business. Success in life. Success in health. Success in happiness.

But Zen Buddhist monk/bestselling author Hanh seems to have a different interpretation of happiness. He says, “We must distinguish happiness from excitement, or even joy.” Like most Buddhists, he basically says we suffer by being attached to the outcome.

Uh oh. Guilty as charged. I am wayyyy to attached to the outcome.

It reminds me of that Bobby McFerrin song: Don’t worry. Be happy. Easier said than done when you are a born worrier, do-er, and over-achiever.

For those of us who aren’t naturally peaceful or Buddhist Zen masters, we spend a lifetime trying different “recipes” for contentment. They say if you smile and think positively, happiness will come to you because you are already practicing it. Energy is like a magnet. Your words and your actions attract similar energy. So think positive.

But I have spent my entire life being measured by tangible demarcations of success:  A letter grade in school. Landing a job. A promotion. A salary increase. A bonus. An award. I became conditioned to always looking for external validation to define my success. The presumption is that happiness will then follow.

But it doesn’t. And why is that? Well, according to Archbishop Alfred Souza, because…

Happiness is the journey, not a destination.”

So, I continue on the journey… even though I don’t have the answers. But my ultimate goal is to just try and be more like this guy.


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