Benefits: Discover what happiness really is and whether or not there is a secret to happiness.
So That You Can: Decide whether or not happiness is even a virtue worth finding the secret to.
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The Secret to Happiness: Let Go of the Desire to Be Happy
Yes, it sounds crazy, but I hate the word happiness (or at least I did). And when I hear someone profess that there’s a secret to happiness, I think, “How preposterous!”
You expect me to believe that something as significant as my personal well-being and fulfillment could be trivialized down to one secret! “Come on; what kind of idiot do you take me for?” I would think to myself with all the obstinance I could muster.
And, sure, my obstinance did fuel my disregard of the phrase “Secret to Happiness,” but I knew there was more to it than that. So I started getting curious about happiness. I started to Deliberately Think about:
- Why I’d developed such an aversion to the word happiness,
- What it means to be happy, and
- If happiness is indeed a virtue worth finding the secret to.
Then I started to reflect on other points of view on the subject, and you know what, I do think happiness is a virtue. In fact, I think happiness is what I’ve been promoting through The Expectation Gaps all along. I just called it something else — full potential or fulfillment.
But how did I arrive at this conclusion? Let’s find out.
Hippie Dippie Dingbat
Before we get started, it will be helpful to know what I (used to) picture when I think of someone who claims that there’s a secret to happiness. She — yes, my hippie dippie dingbat is a she — looks a little something like this.
She has long, flowing, unstyled hair, adorned by a simple crown of daisies. Of course she’s smiling and humming. And, as she moves, she seems to float — an optical illusion caused by the white, softly flowing dress she’s wearing.
The illusion is enhanced by the backdrop of the green field that she’s bouncing through, barefoot, with a few other hippie dippie dingbats. Where are they going? They don’t know, and they don’t care. They’re just enjoying the moment, without a care in the world.
And while this carefree display of happiness is beautiful, and part of me longs to run through that field with my hippie dippie dingbat soulmates, another part of me (the louder part) has no desire to be a part of that world. My pretense leads me to think, “What a meaningless, mundane existence it must be to see and feel nothing but joy. Peace out dingbats!”
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Now That I’ve Probably Offended You . . .
You’re reading this article because some part of you is searching for the secret to happiness. That fact has not escaped me. So let me be clear. While I can completely get on board with the desire to be happy, I have a hard time getting on board with the idea of pursuing happiness.
But why? I wanted to know why I don’t feel the desire to blindly pursue happiness when it seems like so many other people do.
After Deliberately Thinking about it, I realized that being told to be happy, or to discover the secret of happiness, feels like a personal attack to me for two reasons. And, of course, these reasons are driven by my core values:
- The sentiment of “be happy” feels fake to me. It feels forced; like I’m being told to ignore all of the normal feelings that come with being human — anger, sadness, disappointment, etc.
And the sentiment feels like a personal attack because I actually like feeling those normal feelings, sometimes. What? Why? Because my core value is authenticity, and feeling all the feels is part of living an authentic life (at least in my estimation).
Although most people would characterize as a “happy” person, I’m drawn to dark things — whether it be the music I listen to, the shows I watch, or the books I read. I like to gain an understanding of what makes people tick and the struggles people have faced in their lives. What can I say; I like to Stay Curious!
- And that leads us to the second reason I don’t appreciate the word happy. Happiness doesn’t fuel growth, my second core value.
It’s not so much that I don’t want to be happy or find the secret to happiness. It’s more that I place a higher value on living a fulfilling life, one in which I’m working to realize my full potential. And it seems to me that sacrificing some level of happiness is part of that personal development.
What Is Happiness, Really
Now that I had a handle on my aversion to the word happy, it was time to see what the professionals — scientists and psychologists — had to say about it. Did they think that there’s a secret to happiness? Yep!
But to really understand their messages, I needed to find out what the actual definition of happy is. Sure enough, some of the definitions put forth by Merriam-Webster describe the hippie dippie dingbat. But then there are a couple other definitions that would suggest that happiness aligns with my core values more than I thought.
- Definition 2. “notably fitting, effective, or well adapted.” Hmmm. That sounds a bit like someone who has realized their full potential.
- Definition 3.a. “enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment.” And that sounds a bit like being fulfilled.
Does that mean happiness is the result of intentional living? An idea that I promote in almost every post that I write. Could I be seeking happiness without even realizing it? I think so . . .
The Secret to Happiness
Ah yes . . . we’ve finally arrived at what you’re here for — the secret to happiness.
But I already gave you the answer. It’s right in the title ?. You have to let go of the desire to be happy. Okay, but what the heck does that mean?
To understand the answer to that question, you need to know what natural and synthetic happiness are, according to social psychologist Daniel Gilbert.
- Natural happiness = the feels you feel when you get what you want.
- Synthetic happiness = the feels you feel when you don’t get what you want, but you are nonetheless satisfied and able to create your own happiness given the situation. You find the silver lining so to speak.
According to Gilbert, and the scientific studies he cited, synthetic happiness is every bit as good as natural happiness — maybe even better. Synthetic happiness changes your view of the world so that you can feel better about the world in which you find yourself. And that’s pure magic because, as you already know, you have very little control over the external world, but you can determine how you react to it.
You can control whether you desire natural or synthetic happiness. Do you want live your life constantly chasing the “next thing”; the thing that’s going to make you happy? That new car, romantic partner, or promotion.
Or, do you want to let go of the desire to acquire more; live each day to your full potential; and find happiness in the fact that you did the very best that you could with what you had? The choice is yours, and that is the secret to happiness.
But, Is Happiness a Virtue?
We still haven’t discussed how I arrived at the conclusion that happiness is a virtue. To get there, I had to learn about two other types of happiness that psychologists have identified — hedonic and eudaimonic. According to Positive Psychology:
- Hedonic happiness is realized when one experiences more pleasure and less pain.
- Eudaimonic happiness is realized “. . . as the result of the pursuit and attainment of life purpose, meaning, challenge, and personal growth; happiness is based on reaching one’s full potential and operating at full functioning.”
It’s as simple as that. Hedonic happiness is the one realized by the hippie dippie dingbats. The kind of happiness that caused my aversion to the word “happy.”
And, eudaimonic happiness is the kind of happiness that I would call virtuous. The kind of happiness I’ve been promoting through The Expectation Gaps all along without even knowing it.
What’s Your Next Step?
Now that you know the secret to happiness, what are you going to do with it?
Are you willing to stop chasing happiness — to let go of the desire to be happy? And, instead, focus on personal growth and fulfillment, knowing that you will find happiness along the way.
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And until next time . . . STAY CURIOUS!
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Sources & Inspiration
Toxic Positivity, posted to YouTube by Julia Kristina Counselling on 5.06.20
Feeling All the Feels: Crash Course Psychology #25, posted to YouTube by CrashCourse on 8.05.14
The surprising science of happiness | Dan Gilbert, posted to YouTube by TED on 4.26.12
What Is Happiness and Why Is It Important, Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc., Positive Psychology, 4.15.20
How to Be Happier – Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, posted to YouTube by FightMediocrity, 5.27.16