Chasing happiness is overrated.
There I said it.
But let’s take a step back.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about mindfulness. About life and the emotions which so often control us. I couldn’t get past how certain emotions are labeled as “good” and others as “bad”. How if you get upset or jealous you feel ashamed and try to stop the feelings as quickly as possible. We think we can hide an emotion long enough that it will make it go away. We truly believe that if we don’t admit to feeling something it means we don’t.
Out of sight out of mind right?
People do their best to hide from bad emotions and only feel the good ones, but that’s not how life works. We are a constant mix of happiness, anger, anxiety, surprise, and disappointment (amongst other things). It’s vital to not dismiss any of our feelings as unimportant but instead learn to focus our awareness on the present moment. One of the most important things we can learn in life is to calmly acknowledge (and more importantly), accept our feelings, thoughts, and flaws as part of who we are.
We all need to learn how to sit with our emotions whether they are “good” or “bad” and I’ll be honest, it’s fucking hard sometimes. But until we accept that all emotions have equal importance in our lives we won’t be able to find peace.
With the rise of social media and the constant bombardment of everyone else’s life highlights it’s hard to imagine other people struggling with “bad” emotions (even though we all do). We all want to be the person we portray on our Instagram and Snapchat and I’m as guilty as anyone. Who doesn’t want to be the cool, aloof, and carefree person that can just coast by. We don’t want to bother others and bring them down with our fears, jealousy, or anxiety. But the hard truth is that we can’t put a filter over our life, up the brightness, lower the contrast, and magically make life “better”. We do our best to fake it, but in the end we feel how we feel and the bravest thing you can be in life is unafraid to feel.
I’ll be honest, looking back I got lucky. Don’t get me wrong, mindfulness is still something I struggle with every day, but traveling alone for three years put me ahead of the average 20 something. At the time it didn’t feel like luck. It was lonely. It was hard. It forced me to listen to myself about what I feel and why, which is a habit I’ve done my best to keep. Without having anyone to talk to I was forced to check in with myself far more frequently than at any other point in my life.
Over time, I started to become more and more comfortable with what I was feeling regardless of it was “good’ or ‘bad”. Emotions, and even events, lost the stigma and simply just were (maybe a tad stoic but its true). I discovered I was okay being angry as long as I then asked myself “why”. It was okay to be jealous. It was okay to be exhausted from my nomadic life. It was okay to feel whatever I was feeling.
Once I started accepting my own emotions I began to realize how most emotions are temporary. It may sound obvious but in the moment, it was hard to remember that regardless of what I was feeling, it would pass. The old story goes that King Solomon asked for a magic ring to be made that “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” What subscription ended up on the ring? “And this too shall pass” Ah the power of a good quote. The goal of the ring was to keep the wearer from ever getting too high or too low and remind him to not overreact based on emotions or what was going on in his life.
This understanding is what’s triggered my annoyance and disbelief at all of the people chasing constant happiness. So many friends, family, books, movies, and social media telling me that as long as I’m happy my life is good and fulfilled. That being happy is all I need to aspire to in life. But what happens when I’m not happy? Does my life go from being fulfilled when I’m happy to worthless the moment I’m not? After all, it’s in our nature to eventually become bored with things that once brought us joy.
The issue with trying to be constantly happy?
It’s not possible.
It’s a fool’s errand which isn’t healthy. Human beings feel. It’s our greatest strength and our biggest weakness and this belief that we’re supposed to be happy all the time is what’s causing all of us so many issues. We’re ignoring other parts of who we are and refusing to accept them because they are messy. Because they take work and make us uncomfortable. We’re becoming more anxious, stressed, and broken trying to hold ourselves to some ideal image of what we should be based on what feels good.
I’m not saying to avoid happiness.
I’m saying to not rely on it; that it shouldn’t be the only thing we’re chasing.
If I could pick one thing to chase?
Passion is what keeps us going even when happiness is gone and things are hard.
Passion is the light we can see through the anger and hurt.
Passion is the driving force that gives us confidence in where we’re going and peace in who we are when everything else is falling apart.
By pursuing passion you get happiness, but more importantly, you get purpose and I can’t think of a better goal than that.