Why Happiness Shouldn’t be a Goal – But may be a Pursuit
“These questions don’t make any sense!” She said.
In one of my workshops, the group were in pairs, coaching each other in a goal setting exercise. I had been called over to answer some problems they were having with the process.
“What’s the goal you’re working on?” I asked.
“The goal is to be happy.”
And therein lay the problem
The problem is that happiness isn’t – or shouldn’t be – a goal. Happiness is a state. As we know, states come and go and can change in the moment, depending on circumstances and our reactions to events. Understandably, the questions in the goal setting exercise didn’t make any sense when applied to changing a state.
Goals and states are often confused
A state is an emotional frame of mind or disposition. Confidence, calm, excited, upbeat, anxious, nervous, and happy are all states. Unfortunately, it’s common for people to set goals that are just state changes or emotional shifts. These are pseudo goals, stated as “I want to be confident/calm/secure/happy” etc. We can experience all those states – as well as their opposites – at different times. They are not permanent.
A goal is entirely different from a state
A goal needs resources (things like money or equipment) and requires effort to achieve. It also takes time and sometimes needs assistance from others.
How is a goal different from a pursuit?
To pursue something means to go after, run after, seek or obtain it over an extended period. Happiness has become something that many of us are pursuing. Even the US Constitution has, as one of its tenets, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But pursuing something that we need to ‘ go after, run after’ implies that it is somehow outside of us, that it has to be chased, grabbed, wrestled to the ground and beaten into submission.
And this way of thinking is part of the problem
If we believe that happiness is something to be achieved or pursued, it’s always out there in the future – somewhere. So why do we get confused and think about happiness in this way? To answer the question, we perhaps need to look back at human history.
‘Ug, ug’ – back to caveman days
Waaay back in human history, we were busy fighting to stay out of the jaws of animals that would have eaten us for afternoon tea. In more recent human history we’ve been otherwise engaged in surviving famines and diseases like the plague that wiped out whole populations.
When we weren’t fighting merely to stay alive, we were fighting wars with each other. So all in all, we’ve been too busy just trying to keep body and soul together to even think about whether we were happy or not! Even some of our parents and grandparents would have found their lives a physical struggle for survival. Because survival was sometimes tenuous, religions often encouraged us to think beyond this life.
A miserable life would grant us a much better afterlife
If we were ‘good’, we would die young and go to ‘heaven’ where everything would be … well, heavenly.
So as a species our attention wasn’t really on living this life to the full and being happy in the moment, but rather on ‘getting through’ life for some promised reward in the afterlife. Many of us have moved from a belief that this life is just a preparation for a wonderful afterlife to a belief that we can be happy right now.
If only we knew how. Which brings us back to the 21st century
Nowadays, on the whole, humans live longer. The circumstances of our lives have changed for the better – and we want more. With time available where we’re not struggling for mere survival, we search for ‘what else’ there may be to life. This exploration has often involved the purchase of more ‘things’. We might have believed that more ‘things’; toys, handbags, shoes, teddy bears, cars, (insert your particular flavour of ‘thing’ here) would make us feel better.
Things often do make us feel better – for a short while.
Then we find ourselves on a mission for the next shiny object that attracts our attention. But we’ve found this pursuit of happiness to be short-lived and trite.
The word ‘pursuit’ has other meanings
Pursuit also means; to continue or proceed along, to engage in or continue to explore. Let’s combine these meanings with a definition of happiness as; “a state of well-being characterised by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.”
Hmm, isn’t it interesting that happiness covers a range of emotions and not just one? That’s a fantastic starting point; understanding that happiness often consists of other emotions we may not have labelled as ‘happy’. Emotions such as feeling content, interested, joy, confidence, affection and love all contribute to us feeling happy.
What if we pursued happiness from the inside out?
I mean, what if, instead of pursuing happiness as if it’s something that is outside of us, that we continue to explore and engage in being happy?
There are quick and straightforward techniques that we can use to pursue happiness
In fact, after I’d made a long list I found a little video on YouTube (wouldn’t you guess?) that encapsulates the list perfectly. Take a look. It’s only four minutes long. (Click the link below) I’m sure many other videos on the same subject will also appear and you might want to look at those as well.
Realise that obtaining happiness looks simple because it is
Happiness is not a goal to be striven for and achieved some time in the future. Happiness is something you choose and create right now – in the moment.