The Circular Pursuit of Happiness

How is happiness achieved?

Method 1: Hedonism
Doing what you like, enjoying life, maximizing pleasure. According to the hedonistic principle , that’s what we’re fundamentally motivated by – avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. And in many people’s imagination, that is how Heaven looks like – you live forever and everyone gets a mansion.

You might like what life has to give, but you are restless. You don’t feel at ease sitting still, doing nothing meaningful and not moving forward. From what I see, there are a lot of restless people around . Even if we know deep down that our achievements aren’t necessarily more meaningful than simple pleasures in the long run, we feel as if they are. We want something to push against, something to apply our strength to and move. In empty space, we’re goalless and disoriented. Even if you aren’t super ambitious, you might still gain extra happiness and confidence after overcoming something, instead of simply living for pleasure. This leads us to the next method of achieving happiness.

Method 2: Achievement
Here, instead of simply enjoying life, you seek to achieve as much as you can. Perfect for those restless people, and good for the laid-back ones. The self-determination theory states that we have innate needs for autonomy, competence and belonging. We need to be able to make our own choices, we need to become competent at things and overcome challenges, and we need meaningful connections with other people.

There’s an old test for checking if what you are doing is meaningful. “If you were lying in bed, dying, would you say “I wish I spent more time at the office”?”. And it’s true. Achievement is all good and great, but requires sacrifice of time and certain pleasures. If you aren’t careful, you could die too quickly and wish you stopped to smell the roses more often. Or less dramatic: if you’re not careful, you could end up focusing all your time on achievement, without replenishing your energy by proper hedonism and relaxation. And then you could start feeling sad, depressed and not understand why.
Another potential danger is basing your self-esteem on achievements. Achievement, if it’s to mean anything, is not easy by definition. And there will be failure. Your confidence and self-esteem should not fall into the gutter every time you make a mistake or fail. They should not hit rock bottom or make you suicidal when you are too ill, handicapped or poor to achieve anything at the moment. And your conscience should not subject you to great suffering because you have a few flaws, like everyone else.

Method 3: Self-acceptance
I don’t believe a person without self-acceptance can achieve anything and be happy. Even if they don’t like themselves, a person with self-acceptance will think themselves worthy of improvement. They will not do it for others (not for the purpose of making everyone like them and find them more acceptable), they will do it for themselves. If, on the other hand, a person doesn’t recognize any inner worth and improves just to please others, they will most likely feel empty when they do improve, although the feeling might be masked by initial shallow sense of pleasure.
Self-acceptance is like a very good inner friend, who whispers “Hey, don’t cry, I know you’re better than that” in your ear when you are down.

Even your best friends can make mistakes. What you’re convinced is an innate part of yourself, could be just a bad habit – something you learned as a kid through your parents or from society’s dysfunctions. It’s good to defend our interests, personal boundaries and quirks. But sometimes, something from the outside (and not at all in our interests) sneaks in, acts like a part of us, and we defend it, not realizing we would be much better off unlearning this treacherous habit AND have the capacity to do so. And then we miss out on increasing our happiness by achievement.

These three methods are like rock, paper and scissors to me. I wouldn’t use any single one on its own. But together, when properly balanced, they lead to a pretty good life.
How do you achieve happiness? 🙂



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6 Responses to The Circular Pursuit of Happiness

  1. nate says:

    I think happiness is actually a pursuit of freedom whether that is doing nothing, spending time with family or plowing in the garden. The things we truly enjoy and rather be doing is freedom itself. All other distractions keeps us in pursuit.

  2. Eric says:

    I think there also has to be a balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of society. For example, a narcissist would probably never be happy because they would always feel nobody was doing enough for them. On the other hand, if your community is filled with dysfunctional social retards, you can’t be happy living around them. (I know, I live in a community just like that—and have been looking for a place to move! LOL)

    • emmatheemo says:

      I think we have a need to belong somewhere. Very few people can be hermits or be totally without kindred spirits around them. The rest of us are happier when we have a community of some sort, even if it’s small.

  3. Liz says:

    I think happiness = reality – expectations.

  4. Class Punk says:

    I think the highest form of happiness is both having a sense of meaning and the complexity of that sense of meaning. But little things within relationships between living things and within one’s relationship with themselves are like mandatory ingredients within that complexity. Also, buffalo chicken wings, Hawaiian Punch, and “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”.

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