The Mirage of Happiness

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I think we all share a common goal in life – whether you want to be a painter, or a football player, or just really, filthy rich – we all want to be happy. The problem is, as a species we are inclined to attach that happiness to certain desires.

Having goals and dreams is a great thing, as they give us something to strive for, but they can also lead to a distorted view of life and how we perceive happiness.

Many people, myself included, enter this sort of feedback loop:

Not happy

“I’ll be happy when I finish school”

Brief happiness

“I’ll be happy when I get a job”

Brief happiness

“I’ll be happy when I get a girlfriend”

Brief happiness

…and so on.

You are not satisfied with life, and attach the source of your unhappiness to the lack of something in your life, for example, a job. When you reach this goal, you experience brief happiness, but then you become again dissatisfied with life, so you attribute this to some other goal you must achieve before you will be happy.

Now, that’s not to say that this is always true – sometimes achieving a certain goal will improve your happiness remarkably. For example, my getting a job improved my mental health dramatically. However, it is all too common for people to fall into this trap of seeing their own happiness on the horizon, only for it to turn out to be a mirage.

For myself, at least, this dissatisfaction with life is partly due to dissatisfaction with myself. Comparing yourself to others is a very foolish thing to do, and yet it’s something I have only recently been able to resist. Most people my age are in college, or have many friends, or seem to have some sort of life plan. I do not. But I’m not sure any of those things would make me happy.

The friends I do have love and support me, I have an amazing girlfriend, and I have managed to stick around many years since I first became depressed. And I’m very glad I did. I didn’t stay in college because the anxiety and the stress was too much to bear.

I started my job last May, just after my birthday, and I had massive panic attacks thinking about it the weeks beforehand. I never in a million years thought I would be able to work in customer service – I have Asperger’s syndrome and anxiety. I love it. The fact that I can serve complete strangers and not get overwhelmed is the proudest thing I can say about myself.

To other people, this isn’t a big deal. But it is to me. You have to take stock of the things that you are proud of, that you like about your life. Find the little things in your life that make you happy, and don’t compare them to anyone else, don’t let others convince you that you need something else to be happy.

While chasing hopes and dreams is a fantastic thing, it is important to realise that happiness must come from within. Look for the beauty in life and you will find it everywhere. Focus on the positives, and above all, don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t shy away from your achievements. I’m sure there are things that would make you happier, but always appreciate what you have in the present.

There will always be another goal, another promise of happiness. If you put too much value in a goal, you will diminish what you have now, and will be disappointed if it does not meet your expectations.

If you keep chasing happiness, you will miss it.


Until next time,

Seán

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