Happiness, The Pursuit of

“‘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.

Smiley Smile

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.

Risk something.

*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.

Where Next?  Vote!


“No matter how much you change, you still got to pay the price for the things you’ve done.” ~ Doug MacRay

In this world, there are content people.  They got the girl.  They signed the dotted line.  They are sleeping on 500 count sheets.

Good for them.

Do not read sarcasm in to that, I am quite sincere.

If we look down our noses at the people who have found happiness in life, what is the point?  Yes, depressed people tend to have a more realistic outlook on life, and genius and depression have a (dubious) link, which implies that happiness and intelligence are mutually exclusive traits.  But, if bliss is truly the realm of the ignorant, if contentment will always evade the thoughtful, why should we spend so much time and money on this masturbatory activity known as education?

In reality, every pursuit (educational, financial, sexual, etc.) is the product of discontentment.  Contentment is something to aspire to, but there are many of us in this world who are simply not built for mere satisfaction (I say ‘mere’, yet to be satisfied is undoubtedly a gift).

Let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, that 50% of the world’s population is content with their lot in life.  (I doubt 50% of the people in my apartment building are content, let alone the world, but let’s keep this easy).  That still means there are 3,500,000,000 people on this planet (give or take 3 or 4) that want more, or less, or something different.

10 Cities/10 Years is for them.

10 Years

When I was in college, I had a joke with my friends.  While everyone else had general ideas of what they wanted to do with their education (or they had no idea at all), I always said the same thing:

“I’m gonna be homeless for 10 years, then I’m gonna write a book about being homeless and it’s gonna be a bestseller.  Then I’ll be fabulously rich, marry a woman who only wants me for my money and I’ll die from alcohol poisoning at 42.”

Bleak, sure.  Prophetic, maybe.  Funny?  Depends who you ask.

You can see how that ‘joke’ morphed into my 10 Cities project.  I may not be homeless in the technical sense of the word (as if there was a union I had to pay dues to), but I sure don’t live like your average pasty-skin, college-educated, indie-music loving dweeb (for one, I hate PBR).

There is at least one woman in my life who hates what I do to her very core.  She hates seeing me struggle to pay bills, she hates seeing me stress out about finding work every year and she hates how isolated this project can leave me for months at a time.

And she has a point.

In Chicago, I made the kinds of friends that I could spend my life hanging out with, getting drunk with, attending the weddings of, and becoming a real life adult alongside.  Then I left.

10 Cities

In Charlotte, I had a friend who just wanted to get away from her family.

In Philly, there was a sex-line operator who just wanted to stay off of the overnight shift.

In Costa Mesa, there was a girl who wanted to see the world.

In San Francisco, there was a girl who wanted to see her home again.

In Chicago, there was a mother who was working full-time and going to school full-time, just to provide a better life for her kids.

In every city, in every town, in every little podunk shit-stain on the map, there is somebody who is unhappy.  Maybe their best friend is perfectly content with life, or their boyfriend, or their twin sister, but they… well, they want something more.  They want a change.


There is nothing wrong with being happy.  If you’re one of the lucky few in this world who can say you’re honestly content, then congratulations, you have achieved a truly singular triumph of the human experience.

But for the rest of us…

Change is good.  Change is healthy.

Change is sacrifice.

If you want to move away, you can do it.

If you want to get a new job, you can do it.

If you want to escape a past that haunts you, put it in your rearview mirror.

Maybe you’re a single mother of two with a crap job that pays next to nothing an hour and years worth of debt over your head.  No, you can’t very well drop everything and relocate across country, and I’m not trying to imply that you can.  America isn’t equally the land of opportunity for all people.

But, if you are not content in your life, the engine for change is yourself.

I understand that I have a very unique situation that allows me to throw away 10 years of  my life on this project.  I hear it all the time:

“Do it while you can.”

40-, 50-, 60-year-old people all say it. Get out there, live this life while I can.  Because one day…

Well, who knows what ‘one day’ will offer.

(At the rate I’ve been torpedoing relationships, probably not marriage, kids and a white picket fence, but alas…)

What I do know is that at this moment in time, I am not yet content.

And that’s okay.

I meet people all the time who are not content, who are working their bodies to the bone in the pursuit of a dream.  I’d argue that nobody is truly content, that we are all harboring secret (or not-so-secret) ambitions for something bigger and better in our life.  I don’t think I know a single 20-year-old who is actually content (why do you think half of us spend our time bitching about the new Facebook layout; we don’t know what to do with ourselves unless we’re complaining about something).

Whether we’re 20 or 80, we all have dreams bigger than our reality, and that’s what gives meaning to our lives.

Contentment is a fine thing to aspire to.  But it is not the end all, be all.  Even if 50% of humanity truly has been content throughout time, that means all of the great achievements in this world have been accomplished by the other 50% of the population, discontent to stay the same.

You’re alive for maybe 80 years.  You’re dead for eternity.  What will you be remembered for?