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Soulful Sundays: Pursuit of Happiness

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." - Mahatma Gandhi

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." - Thomas Jefferson

Happiness is a laudable goal, but the pursuit of happiness is arguably a better one. Modern functional MRI data of human brains indicates that the mental state of pursuing a meaningful goal and the mental state of happiness are indistinguishable. In other words, we experience the emotion of joy when we believe we are en route to a purposeful destination, not when we have actually arrived there. Many who are an accomplished athlete, artist, or entrepreneur have been riddled with depression the moment that they have achieved the pinnacle of their domain. There is no place but down when we fixate on the eventual salvation, and forget the current one.

How do you want what you already have? That is the meta question of finding long-term satisfaction in life. People who are severely depressed lose the urge for living not because they lose the excitement for future joy (although that is part of the condition). They lose the simple enjoyment of today. This is called anhedonia--the lack of pleasure--and it is absolutely crippling. Having been there myself once or twice before, I know how scary anhedonia can be. When we lose the pleasure of living, simply getting out of bed can be a heroic feat. Thankfully, I had the support of family and friends and a passion to contribute something to the world; otherwise, I would have not made it out alive.

Linking our actions today to the fruits of tomorrow and finding satisfaction during those actions is key to sustained happiness. Take exercise for example. Not everyone likes to do it, but it is an essential component of our long-term health. We have three real options: don't exercise (and face the consequences), exercise despite hating it (and risk burnout), or find a form of exercise you love to do (thus minimizing the possibility of giving up on it). It is a sign of maturity to accept responsibility for the things that we cannot change, but a sign of wisdom to find a way to like them.

As you take inventory of your thoughts this week look for how many times you are tempted to jump ahead to the end of an activity. We all do things that we don't particularly enjoy doing (driving in traffic, waiting in line, running, working, paying taxes, making small talk, attending meetings/classes, etc.), but there is always a way to make these tasks more worthy of our attention. If you can maintain a smile, a sense of inner satisfaction, and a reverence for the awe of each and every moment, then you're getting closer to happiness. We didn't deserve any of what we have been given--this applies to both the good and the bad--which makes each and every experience a gift to be curious about, rather than a shackle to resent.

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