Happiness is NOT the Goal

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Happiness is not the goal.

Let me say that again so that it really sinks in: despite what they tell you, happiness is. Not. The. Goal.

Here’s the problem with happiness: when we pursue happiness, what we’re pursuing is a feeling. And feelings… well, they don’t last.

Do me a favour. Think about the last time you felt well and truly angry. Like, fists-balled-up just-need-a-release angry. Or the last time you felt blissful, like everything was lining up the way it was supposed to. Do you still feel that way now? Of course not. You very well may be angry or blissful or any other number of emotions right now, but whatever emotion you’re carrying with you is a response to direct stimulus happening now, because that’s what feelings are. Feelings are reactions to thoughts which are reactions to this moment, or to past doubts or to future fears. Feelings – including happiness – don’t last. And chasing it? Well, we all know how quickly things can go wrong when we chase any kind of high, and I include happiness in there.

What I want you to think about instead is your baseline. If blissful happiness and your darkest despair are making this up and down curve, your baseline is right in the middle of those two. It’s like the neutral zone. The empty-ish space that your feelings can inhabit.

Day to day, does your baseline skew low? Does it skew high? Does it seem balanced? And while we’re talking about that baseline, how often does that baseline stretch really low or really high? How quick are you to deviate from that baseline and snap to judgement, fear, or a depressive state? How easy is it for you to shoot high and end up in a state of flow or happiness? And when that returns back to baseline, is your perception of that baseline about normal? Or are you resistant to that happiness ending?

Here’s the deal: happiness is not the goal, but a tempered baseline is. Call it contentment, or temperance, or whatever floats your boat, but the general state of responding to your world (as in, thinking through things and responding appropriately) instead of reacting to your world (an emotional outburst that disturbs your baseline) is the goal.

And what is that, really? Personal responsibility and agency. In other words, taking enough responsibility to identify conditions for success (creating experiences in which you can respond instead of react), and doing the work to create those conditions. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Schedule downtime. Schedule time to reflect. Exercise. Proactively take care of your to-do list so that the only thing running you is yourself. 

That level of personal responsibility is key to tempering your baseline, responding instead of reacting, and creating conditions in which you can feel most content, most fulfilled, and most happy.