“‘Money doesn’t buy happiness.’ Do you live in America? Because it buys a waverunner.” ~ Daniel Tosh
Is the greatest pursuit in life truly happiness?
Is it really that simple?
I think most people would say that finding happiness is the clearest, purest goal that any person could have. Whether theist or atheist, general consensus states that, if nothing else, finding personal contentment translates to success in life.
I’d like to challenge that notion.
Life, Liberty and the Preservation of Property
We find happiness quite easily. A favorite song, a good book, an enjoyable movie. Call these the Aesthetic Joys. Then there is Chemical Happiness, through alcohol, drugs and even food. As a society, we frown on this sort of happiness, excepting it as a social exercise but decrying it as ‘fake’ happiness. It’s a common refrain in religious circles to claim that such pursuits are poor substitutes for the joy of knowing God. Well, that’s a bit of the ol’ ‘begging the question’, but I’m not going to address that here.
Admittedly, these bring only a temporary happiness, one that can often (but not always) be followed by a precipitous emotional fall.
An even more shallow pursuit is what I deem Possessive Happiness:
Those things we buy, the items we own, they very much do bring about happiness, despite that old canard about what money cannot buy. People buy new phones, new shoes, new boobs and they are happy. Maybe it’s a fleeting happiness as they will soon want something else new, but temporary happiness counts for something.
Some of the most wretchedly cheerful people I’ve ever known have been the type of people who can squeal with excitement over a new jacket or designer sunglasses.
Shallow? Sure, but consumerism is America’s favorite pastime for a reason.
There is no such thing as everlasting happiness.
And that includes religion. Consider how many miserable Christians there are in the world and then tell me ‘God’ brings true joy. I’ve known chronically happy Christians, but I’ve known chronically happy non-Christians, too; it’s not salvation, it’s a personality trait. Those who find contentment through faith aren’t happy because of God, they are happy because they have found a purpose, both personal and cosmic. It doesn’t matter if that purpose is real or not, just so long as they believe it. Which is why faith is so insidious and hard to undermine.
We need purpose. More so than love, money or comfort. Now, love, money or comfort can be our purpose, which is why so many people are happy when they achieve them, but it’s the realization of one’s purpose that matters most in the equation.
The standard Creationist argument is that Nature looks designed so it must have a designer. Those same people would say, “You’re an atheist, that means there is no purpose, just accidental existence.” Well, they’d be half right.
Purpose, like morality, is personal. It is not derived from a cosmic force, but instead comes from an internal compass, an evolved conscience. And again, like morality, the logically and evolutionarily soundest form of purpose is that which benefits the most people, the species as a whole.
All I Want Now Is Happiness for You and Me
If your personal purpose is happiness for yourself, maybe even for your loved ones, that makes surface sense. It resounds with the sort of simplicity that is often mistaken for nobleness.
But why limit yourself to such meager aspirations?
Shouldn’t our purpose in life be to improve the world, to leave this place better than we found it? Why settle for mere happiness when we have 70 to 90 years on this planet to make a positive impact?
I find religion to be just as shallow and selfish as consumerism or drug-taking* because 75% of people who ‘find religion’ will never do anything with it more than just enjoy a smug sense of cosmic completeness. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want more proselytizing in the world (please God, no), but when compared to the people who were martyred in the past because they believed their message was The Good News, I find the Joel Olsteen-loving, C.S. Lewis-quoting Christians of the modern age flaccid and contemptible.
But my scorn is not just for the religious. My real disgust is with my generation, the bitching and moaning generation that has never failed to find a cloud in their silver lining. Anything that doesn’t result in our immediate happiness is to be thrust from us like a pea from under the Princess’ mattress.
We cannot bear discomfort. We can’t even bear a Facebook layout change.
Which is why so few of us have a purpose worth a damn. Because to make a difference, to bring about change, one must be willing to accept change, and there is nothing more uncomfortable than that.
I don’t know what your purpose should be. It doesn’t have to be religious, political or moral. In fact, I’d suggest that those aren’t all that important. Still, if you think being a missionary in China or a Teabagger or an abortion protester is your grand purpose, I can’t say I’ll be supportive of your efforts, but I can at least respect the impetus to act.
We’re not all going to agree what truly matters in this world, but if you believe that contentment is the highest pursuit, I think you suffer from a lack of imagination.
The world is bigger than you and your happiness. Grow up. Join in.
*This shouldn’t be read as an anti-consumerism, anti-drug screed. In fact, buy all the shit you want, take all the drugs and alcohol you want, screw and party and do what makes you happy. Just don’t make that the entirety of your life.
10 thoughts on “Happiness, The Pursuit of”
“We need purpose.”
You know, I hear that a lot and from a lot of people. Nobody’s really been able to show why though. Seems to me that any and all “purpose” we might invent is as paper thin as perusing happiness all the time. Sure, we do need goals, challenges, etc… but I don’t think that’s what you mean.
I’ve met a lot of people looking for this ineffable “purpose”, including myself, but it still seems to me to be a sad, pointless hunt for something that simply does not exist. Further, this constant hunt for a purpose to life seems to serve as a distraction to the subject matter, meaning you miss the whole living part. Of course not ALL of it because you’re not always looking for purpose either.
It just seems to me that the happiest people, and the happiest times in life, the most fulfilled/fulfilling, or whatever… are not looking for purpose, don’t think they’ve found one (those people are REALLY nuts), and can simply exist without having to justify that existence with “purpose”. The best times of life are when you just live.
So I say fuck purpose entirely. I don’t think we need it at all. We need challenges to overcome and goals to achieve, and as far as “purpose” goes, that’s it.
You misunderstand what I mean by purpose. And I think you’ve also missed the point of the post.
There is no single ‘purpose’ in this world, no grand purpose that we are designed for or that we must attain. Living to be happy is easy. Yeah, that is one way to live life and if you pursue it, you’ll be fine, because you’ll be happy. But it’s also selfish and shallow. Obviously, some people may be content with that, and that is fine. I’m writing to the people of this world who want to matter, who want to be worth a damn.
If your search for purpose is a ‘sad, pointless hunt’, then what you’re looking for is probably, indeed, ineffable. Your purpose can be merely to create something beautiful in this world, to create art that is new and original, or it can be philanthropic in nature, it really could be anything that requires effort, sacrifice of oneself in one form or another. I’m not saying we should all look for some one purpose, I’m saying that if you think that the best way to spend 70 years on life is to make oneself happy, then you are boring and you will disappear off this earth without leaving any mark. You may be satisfied with that, and if so I’m not attempting to argue you out of your position.
You do say “We need challenges to overcome and goals to achieve,” which is essentially what I mean. But if you truly are overcoming challenges and achieving goals, you aren’t going to be happy all the time, because a real challenge is work, it requires time and energy that will deplete us and stand in the way of happiness. We will be satisfied once those goals are met, of course, and that’s how it should be. After all, I’m not saying we should be unhappy, only that our happiness should be earned by achieving something of merit.
I just happen to think that if all we got is this 70-90 years (and it is all we got), we might as well use it for something bigger than ourselves.
Nope, I apparently understood.
“I’m saying that if you think that the best way to spend 70 years on life is to make oneself happy, then you are boring and you will disappear off this earth without leaving any mark”
That’s going to happen anyway.
I’m not sure if that’s a pessimistic statement about your own worth or a nihilistic statement about the ultimate futility of existence.
If the former, that’s your life, do with it what you want.
If the latter, I completely disagree. People make huge impacts on the world all the time, and have since the beginning of time. Individuals have changed the course of human history countless times. That we live only a finite time should not preclude us from living with intention.
And I’m not talking about Jesus or Ghandi. Aristotle, Shakespeare, Einstein or (more personally) Fitzgerald, writers and artists and thinkers, these people caused ripple effects throughout history. We don’t remember them because of their happiness, we remember them because of their ambition and creativity and skill.
If those aren’t personal traits you aspire to, I have no interest in persuading you otherwise, this isn’t a debate. I’m not trying to start a religion or a movement. I write for the ambitious and the creative and hope they do not allow modern comforts to dull their edge.
Had those people been instead distracted trying to find “purpose”, history might view them a bit differently.
I’m not saying live your life looking for purpose. I’m saying live your life with purpose. To miss that point which I think is quite clear is to be intentionally contrarian. You’re not actually saying anything, I feel you’re just disagreeing to disagree. In which case, the internet was made for you.
I can see that I wasted my time. You don’t want a different perspective.
This isn’t a matter of ‘different perspective.’ I know the other perspective, I addressed it in the original post. You act like you’re making profound statements when all you’re saying is, “Nuh uh.”
You strike me as someone who doesn’t even really believe what he’s claiming: “Happiness is all you need.” Yet that rings hollow from a guy whose comments ring out with nihilism and defeat.
Having a purpose in life can make one happy, so I’m obviously not telling people not to be happy. I’m stating that stopping at happiness, saying “I’ve achieved happiness, that’s all I need” is not a noble or enviable way to live.
Those who made a true impact in this world were never content with nice shoes and tasty snacks, nor were they satisfied to coast on easy living. Challenging yourself is the life worth living.
“You strike me as someone who doesn’t even really believe what he’s claiming: “Happiness is all you need.” ”
I see it is you that didn’t understand as I never, ever said anything remotely like that. In fact I mentioned several things other than happiness that are needed. I didn’t think you where actually reading what I was saying; I see I was correct.
Don’t expect me to show interest in your posts again. I tried to respond and all you did was attack. You didn’t even bother to read my comments, let alone actually consider their content.
“It just seems to me that the happiest people, and the happiest times in life, the most fulfilled/fulfilling, or whatever… are not looking for purpose, don’t think they’ve found one (those people are REALLY nuts), and can simply exist without having to justify that existence with “purpose”. The best times of life are when you just live.
So I say fuck purpose entirely. I don’t think we need it at all. We need challenges to overcome and goals to achieve, and as far as “purpose” goes, that’s it.”
This was the gist of your argument. I got that from the beginning (when I said that “All you need is happiness”, I was referring to your dismissal of purpose). You kept carping on this notion of “finding purpose” when that was never my point. I don’t think we need to spend our lives looking for a purpose, I think individual purpose is pretty self-evident.
It either comes down to the fact that you agree with my point but want to debate some semantics bullshit, or you disagree and think happiness is all we need. This whole tangential argument you’re making about wasting life searching for a purpose is meaningless. You’re confusing my use of ‘purpose’ with some metaphorical/religious/self-help sense of the word, when what I mean is “Live your life with purpose.” Don’t waste it merely indulging your every whim, live.
We’ve apparently both “missed” each other’s point, but having now “got” yours, I feel no more enlightened. I’m sorry you won’t be showing any more interest in my posts, frowny face for reals.
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