We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (The Declaration of Independence of the United States)
We seek health, beauty, money, and/or power because we think it will make us happy. This has been a belief for centuries. Men and women have pursued happiness – and the key to finding it – for generations.
We live in a time when we are healthier than ever. We live a long time compared to previous generations. We are affluent. We have luxuries that Thomas Jefferson never imagined, i.e., La-Z-Boy recliners, BMW’s, and iPhones. And, oh yeah, running water, garbage pickup, and electricity.
With all of the advances that we enjoy, you would think that our days are filled with one happy moment after another, yet many people live their lives as if they have been wasted. Instead of living in a state of happiness they live in a state of anxiety, boredom, and regret.
Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy. (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience)
Happiness comes when we are in pursuit of something. Happiness occurs when you complete a pursuit whether it is finishing a crossword puzzle, birthing a baby, or letting go of a child as he takes off on his bicycle for the first time.
It it the pursuit of something meaningful that leads to happiness.
One of my top 10 books of all time is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was an Austrian psychologist who endured living in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. He wrote, “Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.”
We cannot determine our looks. We cannot choose our parents. We cannot control the economy. We cannot decide how much pollen should be in the air. We often blame our unhappiness on circumstances beyond our control.
But we do control our actions. When our actions are pursuits that we genuinely want to see accomplished, we feel a sense of exhilaration. These pursuits could be as little as solving the final answer in a Jumble puzzle during your lunch break or they could be as involved as flying halfway across the globe to help dig a well for a village that has no clean drinking water.
The best moments in life usually occur when we have stretched our body or mind to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
When you pursue and participate in determining the content of your life, happiness will follow.
This is why it is important to find meaningful work and to look for deep experiences. If you hate your job, come home to sit on your carcass to watch meaningless TV shows from 7 PM until midnight, then wake up the next morning to do the same thing again, you will not find happiness.
You need a pursuit. You need a quest. You need adventure. Whether it is pursuing a deeper walk with God, learning something new, or going somewhere different, you will not find happiness and contentment in life without something to attain.
Life is better when you have a sustaining practice that holds your desire, demands your attention, and requires effort.
Henry James wrote, “True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one’s self; but the point is not only to get out – you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand.”
Do you have an absorbing errand? What are you pursuing?
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