The pursuit of happiness does present a connumdrum or two, doesn’t it? Someone pointed out to me a marvellous quote yesterday:

Those only are happy … [who] have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness.

This by JS Mill who went on to explain that people should pursue a life goal and experience happiness while on that journey… Very similar to the notion of John Lennon’s that “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” So is it healthy for us to be constantly pursuing and looking for happiness?

There is a major train of thought in modern psychology and within happiness philosophy that to achieve happiness, we need to increase self-awareness of values and life goals. One man might become aware, for example, that he really doesn’t like the “rat race” and prefers a leisurely life. Another might become aware that he loves to work. The former will find happiness in a job that is minimally challenging or even working parttime, whereas the latter in a job that is very challenging and requires a lot of work, maybe more than full time.

If one is focused on hedonism, maybe you are not focused on fulfilling your life goals. In that case, you may be unhappy. As a young man, Malcolm X, for example, partied day after day while becoming increasingly unhappy with his meaningless life. So he found Islam and changed his life. He didn’t find Islam to be happy; he found it because it expressed his values. Happiness came in passing because his life was now meaningful to him.

As I wrote at the end of last week, too much of modern positive thinking and attitude focuses on simple ideas about happiness as the excess of positive over negative feelings. Too much is about dualism: pleasure/pain; intrinsic/extrinsic; behavioural excitation/inhibition. Not enough attention is paid to meaning, fulfillment, values, needs and life motives.

Focusing on one’s own happiness absorbs you in yourself. If you are a gregarious person, you will be unhappy focused on yourself because it may defeat your social goals.

We all differ… So getting to know how we differ is surely key… Taking some interest in ones own values and desired outcomes in life, knowing what sense of purpose we behold is at the heart of finding it, not some prescribed dogma or linear path for everyone to embark upon, no?