How to be unhappy

The Pursuit of Unhappiness

The good news and the bad news; you can be as miserable as you want to be.

There seems to be this illusive notion of happiness. I mean, if someone asked you if you are happy right now, what would you say? Most of us wouldn’t have a straight answer but instead suffer from a kind of ‘happiness qualification syndrome’:

“I’m pretty good, but I would be happier if….”

I had a disturbing conversation with a friend the other day about happiness. And while there are many ways to insure that our lives will suck, there are a few that really stick out. These are the big ones. The most insidious. The ones that leak into our supply of self-love and poison the water. Big time.

3 Ways to Avoid Happiness

1. Believe that happiness is weakness.
2. Believe that happiness is a pursuit.
3. Believe that happiness is external.

Believing happiness is weakness, not strength.

My friend was in the midst of getting his PhD from a prestigious university in the US. And by the way he was describing it, he was no longer interested in the subject matter of his lifelong study. When I probed a bit further, he went on to say that he still liked it, he was just worried about what was next. After about 30 minutes of providing solutions, options and ideas- having each one shot down- I asserted that perhaps he didn’t really want to be happy. Finally he came right out with it.

“Happiness creates contempt. If I am satisfied with things, I won’t work hard to reach my goals.”

I had never really heard it said like this, out loud, but it struck me as a really amazing lie. The thing about authentic self-love and happiness is that it actually breeds the opposite of laziness. In my experience, it produces self-discipline. The word discipline has a bad rap because when it’s coming from the outside it’s usually what you get when you do something wrong. But when you are deeply in touch with who you are and what you want, productivity flows out naturally. This comes from the inside. You start doing things that are good for you because you know you deserve the positive outcome. Think about it. Do you know anyone who really loves themselves and as a result does nothing worthwhile with their life?

But here is the tricky bit: consumerism thrives on self-hate. So this myth, this war with happiness, is perpetuated everywhere in our society, especially media. When you think about it, it’s what keeps us all on the consumer treadmill. Which leads me to great way to avoid happiness #2:

Believing happiness is a pursuit, not a practice.

I remember this billboard on the 605 freeway. I saw it on one of my last trips to LA. I don’t remember what product it was for- I assume some kind of sports ad. But I remember that the message was dangerously subtle.

“Better has no finish line.”

Fair enough, it seemed like a good line about motivation and challenging yourself. If you have ever had a goal or a project deadline or a personal quest, you understand this one. It can be quite energizing. You catch the fever. You get up every day with the excitement and anticipation – the fire of it in your belly. You are consumed by it and it feels good. Nothing wrong with all that, right?

But look at this a little deeper. What the line is also saying is that contentment is weakness and happiness must be continually pursued rather than practiced or experienced (oh yea, and while you are at it, buy these running shoes!)

I think it’s funny that the US declaration of independence started this early on: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Even the founding fathers were clear about this. Pursuit, not practice. So basically the striving towards, infinitely but no attainment- that’s what was being guaranteed. The machine of consumer society lives on if we fundamentally believe that if we are not in perpetual motion, we are not doing the best we can. The concept of stopping to “smell the roses” becomes a funny little quip that we save for rainy days and people who are experiencing burn out. Which brings us to the 3rd way to keep happiness from bothering you, ever:

Believing happiness is external, not internal.

When you think about it, the pursuit of happiness keeps it all going. People keep working to forward causes and corporations that they don’t believe in. Commercialism thrives on the premise that everyone always needs newer, better stuff to improve their situation. Money is made in boat loads as long as each individual believes that being happy takes stuff, people and status to make it happen. As long as we believe that it doesn’t come from us, from some place inside that we already have, we will keep going out and filling our lives with things we don’t need. (Oh advertising, you crafty mistress.)

But perhaps, and I am going out on a limb here, all of the above is just messing with our heads. Maybe we have bought into some pretty complicated lies that now plague us from ever enjoying the achievement of our goals, from ever finding an internal place to hang our hat and say, “You, yes you- you rock.” Just to clarify, I am not saying that we should be happy all the time or that this is even possible. In fact, happiness is just one of many completely necessary parts of our human experience. I firmly believe that our highs and lows need each other to create balance in our lives. But I for one am totally determined not to get to the end of my life and think back on it saying, “Oh, shit. I was happy once and I forgot to notice!”

By practicing happiness and noticing the beauty around and within us daily, we might actually start to become more focused towards the things that truly matter.

3 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Unhappiness”

  1. Jay Randall

    Really helpful – thought provoking, insightful and wise – thanks much!

  2. Pingback: It Will Never be Enough. - Shaleah Dawnyel

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