Happiness isn’t what you truly want (and what you’re really searching for)

Life happens in the mind.

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if objective circumstances completely dictated our level of happiness, independent of our interpretation? If that were the case, the vast majority of people in developed countries would have no reason to be unhappy or unsatisfied, because comparatively, we are in the 1%. We wake up to basic amenities that would be considered luxuries for billions of other human beings alive right now.

Did you question whether you’d have access to clean water when you woke up this morning? Did you wonder whether it was safe to leave your house? Did you worry that your children might not be fed this week?

I don’t mean to beat you over the head with your privileges, or instil some kind of pernicious “first-world guilt” in you. But it’s a sobering realization, and I don’t think we’re confronted with it often enough.

It’s also the foundation for understanding the simple fact: external situations do not produce happiness. And what if “happiness” isn’t what we’re after at all?

If humans were in pure pursuit of the subjective feeling of pleasure, the richest among us would be constantly hooked to an IV of heroin or some intensely pleasurable substance. Of course, many people do this to a lesser degree–constantly chasing sex, money, adventure, or whatever dopamine-releasing endeavour of their choosing.

We have endless opportunities to be injected with happiness; but somehow we can be enjoying ourselves, yet still miserable. Have you felt this paradox?

Here’s the solution to the cosmic riddle: happiness is not what you want. What you truly want is to experience the present moment as fully as possible, regardless of whether it is rife with suffering or bouncing with bliss. You want to experience full peace, which is unconditional acceptance of the present experience.

You can prove this to yourself with consistent meditation and mindfulness practice. But here’s a simple proof:

Would you enjoy a movie that had no conflict, no rollercoaster of emotional experience? A movie that was just a flatline of someone experiencing happiness?

Of course not. The best movies are those that grip you fully: that absorb you into the challenges faced and the love found. A movie is a microcosm of life.

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