Now and then
it’s good to pause
in our pursuit of happiness
and just be happy
- Guillaume Apollinaire
There is a lot of emphasis in this culture on the pursuit of happiness. It is even listed in the Declaration of Independence as one of our "unalienable rights." There are many books and a whole school of psychology devoted to how to be happy or attain happiness. It has been made into a goal or something to be achieved rather than a state of being. So much of our culture's ( and the world's) materialism and consumerism is an attempt to buy or attain things that will bring happiness, a quick fix at best.
In a certain sense, so much emphasis on attaining happiness makes it more elusive. It's like a dog chasing it's tail, something that is just out of reach but seems so close: it becomes a mesmerizing, obsessive pursuit. Somehow the chase, the search, the pursuit, has become the focus, the end in itself. This chase doesn't actually bring happiness except maybe in fleeting moments.
Happiness is an inner state of being, not something that can be pursued, purchased or attained. It is always available even in times of great difficulty or fear. It is something that can be experienced by turning inward, and something that can be felt by paying attention to the small joys of life: the beauty of a flower, the feel of the wind on the skin, the full moon, a smile, a newborn baby. It's tricky to write about, because I don't want to give yet another prescription for "how to be happy." So I will simply end by saying it exists in awareness of the present moment, rather than as a pursuit.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley