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The Promise of Happiness

Jonathan Riley

‘Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.’ – Eleanor Roosevelt

We often think that happiness is something we achieve, but as Eleanor Roosevelt reminds us, happiness is something that happens when we do everything else right. Over the last few weeks, we have spoken about how to achieve happiness, but we want to reiterate that happiness is not a goal; it’s a by-product of the things we do. It’s a reminder that if your goal is just to be happy, you might want to think about what it takes to get there.

We believe that happiness is not a destination but a journey. It’s a mindset, a perspective, a choice. An important reason that happiness is not a destination is something called active anticipation. This is about your enjoyment of the process. We are constantly preoccupied with thoughts about the future or the past in our hectic lives, such as what we will do next or when we will be happy. As a result, we are frequently unaware of what is going on around us and what is happening in the present moment.

The danger with making happiness a goal is that you forfeit your joyful experience of the present. You don’t enjoy spring because you’re thinking about summer. You miss the beauty of nature on your walk because you are so focused on losing weight. You forget to be grateful for the roof over your head because you don’t own a house. For most of us, happiness is conditional. When we tell ourselves, “I will finally be happy when I achieve whatever goal or overcome whatever challenge,” we are setting an impossible expectation for ourselves. One of the most common examples of conditional happiness is social expectations, such as getting a good job, finding a partner, and having children. Many people assume that they will feel satisfied once those boxes have been ticked.

On the path to achieving happiness, practicing mindfulness and gratitude are critical components that must be cultivated. Mindfulness is effective because it requires you to stop and pay attention to life as it is in this moment. Whether it’s focusing on the activities you enjoy, taking in the view in front of you, or savouring the taste of your coffee, mindfulness teaches you to detach from future or past thoughts. Gratitude is also effective because it helps rewire the brain to focus on the positive and fulfilling aspects of our lives.

According to the Dalai Lama, happiness does not consist of a never-ending stream of pleasurable experiences. Instead, it is an optimal way of being that embraces all of life’s joys and sorrows. Happiness, he believes, is a collection of various fundamental human characteristics, including altruism, love, compassion, and inner peace.

Happiness isn’t a goal you can reach and be done with. It is a never-ending pursuit that necessitates constant nurturing and action on our part. It’s possible that valuing happiness is counterproductive because the more people value happiness, the more likely they are to be disappointed. Perhaps the lesson is to avoid setting a goal as broad as “happiness.” Instead, focus on developing and cultivating the type of life and relationships that bring you fulfilment and satisfaction. It’s also important to think about how you define happiness. Happiness is a broad concept that has different connotations for different people. Consider what it means for you personally.