I used to fear happiness and its desire. I told myself that the note of happiness was but one in the symphony of life’s emotions.That while Pollyanna had her merits, I quite enjoyed the poetic richness of melancholy. That if I dared to embark on the noble goal to achieve abiding happiness, life’s reality would cast its certain shadow on my plans.
I took the dare anyway because it is who I am. I dare to defy common consent for the sake of truth and freedom. I dare even if I’m sneered at by intellectual highbrows and considered a simple-minded sap in the pursuit of fools gold. I dare because the genuine pursuit of happiness-the deep flourishing joy that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind-is worth it. No longer will I stand idly by, buffeted by every wind of emotion and say I have no choice. And say this is just the way life is.
I’m not talking about platitudes, cheery days, walks on the beach, or magic moments, nor am I talking about naive optimism, rose-colored glasses, positive affirmation, or a mood or emotion. Rather, I’m speaking of a way of being, a way of interpreting the world, an immutable peace that relies not on external circumstances, but on a vast interiority of joyful calm.
Is it possible? I don’t know, but I believe it is. And I’m willing to put in the work. Yes, work. Why? We think nothing of spending years learning a new language or honing our golf game. But when it comes to the human quality of happiness, the same quality that Aristotle called the ultimate purpose of human existence, we sometimes resist and scoff. We content ourselves with flashes of positive emotion, like satisfaction over a baked potato, a smile from a stranger, or a job well done. And while these experiences enrich our lives with bright spots of meaning and give us sparks of real plentitude, I’m seeking something deeper. More lasting.
That something deeper includes freedom from afflictive emotions that arise from self-centeredness. A clear lake of inner calm amidst the turbulence of life. A way of being that first seeks to relieve the suffering of others. A loving kindness and compassion that radiates from the deepest part of my lake to the souls of other beings.
I am seeking the definition of happiness that philosopher Robert Misrahi calls, “the radiation of joy over one’s entire existence.” What Saint Augustine called “a rejoicing in the truth.” The happiness that comes, as Gandhi asserts, “when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” What french philosopher Mathieu Ricard calls “a luminous appreciation of the present moment.”
I believe the attainment of happiness is a decision, and I believe it is a skill. I believe, along with Epicurus, that “One must practice the things which produce happiness, since if that is present we have everything, and if it is absent, we do everything in order to have it.”
What about you? Do you dare to be happy? Do you dare to defy the popular notion that you can’t help afflictive emotions because it’s just your nature? I hope you’ll dare with me and I hope you’ll share what you find. I promise to do the same.