The American author and poet Henry David Thoreau once expressed the following, “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder…”
In an attempt to resolve the idea of happiness being an elusive quality, we imply that it is so by framing it in the negative. Given the suffering present in the world nowadays, many of us are inclined to consider happiness as being intangible. It would not be incorrect to assume the following line of thought in such an event, “How can happiness prevail when there is suffering in the world?”
It would be remiss of me to answer this via an article, when religion and philosophy have tried unsuccessfully to settle this dilemma for centuries. I can only reason that despite the suffering in the world, happiness is still an attainable goal. How might this be possible you may ask?
In underdeveloped countries, notwithstanding poverty, happiness prevails when people’s basic needs are met. Contrast to the developed countries where daily life is chaotic with high rates of stress and mental illness as a consequence of a demanding lifestyle.
In drawing awareness to our suffering and those of others, we lose sight of happiness as an attainable objective. Happiness cannot be a fleeting experience when we direct our focussed attention toward it.
Many people believe happiness will miraculously transform their life once it is attained. Hence the seeker travels far and wide in search of happiness, only to discover that it is contained within him.
Our hectic lifestyle makes happiness harder to reach, since our minds are continually preoccupied with something. Technology and communication devices constantly vie for our attention. For this reason many people find it challenging to be alone in silence without a communication device attached to them.
Pursuing happiness rests in letting go of unnecessary distractions in one’s life. Distractions include: toxic thoughts, habits, disempowering emotions, destructive relationships, events, commitments, etc. By simplifying life, we create the idyllic conditions for happiness to thrive.
As we direct our attention toward the negative aspects of life, i.e. daily news, gossip & tabloid magazines, etc., our minds may be drawn to this stimuli on a continuing basis. It is for this reason you cannot read the gossip magazines once without being fixated on the next ensuing drama. Our awareness should be channelled into worthwhile experiences which afford us joy and happiness instead.
Moreover, the notion that happiness is elusive stems from our inability to hold our concentration on it long enough. If we believe happiness is an unattainable goal, we reject it as an idea, thus becoming elusive. You might have heard it said that our beliefs shape our perceptions, which creates our experience of life.
Reconnecting With Happiness
Regrettably many people unconsciously drive happiness away via their thoughts. Their constant attention on their external reality shapes their inner world so that suffering becomes the focal point in their life. Popular culture has left an indelible mark on us that we constantly look to our external conditions as a measure of success.
Many travel the world in search of happiness, seeking new and exciting experiences only to discover it has vanished when they return home. At this point they direct their interest toward acquiring more ‘things’ or associating with certain people in the hope it will bring them the happiness they strive for. Assuredly the novelty wears off and soon enough they are back where they started – struggling to fill an empty void within.
It begs the question, does happiness happen to us? – is it an externally generated experience or a user generated experience? If we subscribe to the belief that happiness occurs without our control, we remain at the mercy of it being a fleeting experience. Conversely, if we believe that we are the wellspring of our own happiness, it will present itself in everyday life. This is empowering for a number of reasons least of which proffers that we become the source of our joy, rather than presume it is not within our own volition.
In his book Hardwiring Happiness, neuropsychologist and author Rick Hanson summarises that happiness can be attained in everyday life by applying a four step protocol he calls H.E.A.L
- Have a positive experience
- Enrich it
- Absorb it
- Link a positive experience to it (optional)
Striving toward a goal while pursuing one’s dream or passion, although it may be met with challenges, may still be a positive experience imbued with happiness. Some of the world’s greatest inventors and creatives before our time, struggled with success in their respective fields amid the backdrop of pursuing happiness.
In order to attain happiness we must connect with our deepest nature. Simply begin looking for happiness in your everyday life experiences and undoubtedly you will be surprised how beautiful and inviting your world can be. Allow the joy and rapture to come from within, not without.
If you rush about daily life, plugged in to electronic devices with little or no quiet time, happiness will pass you by like a high speed rail train.
Make a vow to honour the happiness within you. Reconnect with your child-like nature. Be curious toward the simple things in life and I can assure you happiness will not be so elusive after all.
It will look like this: Is Happiness Elusive?