The Paradoxical Relationship Between Happiness and the Pursuit of Happiness

One of the most frustrating parts of my own journey thus far is that when I tried the hardest to be happy, I found that I was at my most unhappy. For a while, I blamed this on the fact that I was only trying so hard because I had already started the spiral into depression, but it turns out that there could potentially be far more to it.

In this interesting study, it was shown that there was an inverse correlation between trying to be happy, and being happy. The more than someone was told to value their happiness, the less they perceived themself as happy. For someone trying their best to work through a depressive episode, trying to cheer up may become their sine qua non. Simply put, though, that may be entirely counterproductive.

To relate this to myself, I know that if I am trying to “take it easy and de-stress” then my personal actions almost assure that I will begin to do things that actually make me more isolated and focus on my own well-being. This has -never- worked. I can actually think of times when I would decide to play video games to unwind, only to become totally absorbed with my goal pursuit in them, and subsequently, feel more stressed than when I began.

As this particular blog is directed around not only science, but also the relationships to spirituality, it’s worth looking at the words of a couple of well known spiritual leaders:

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.” – Buddha, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.  And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’  So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘Fool!  This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?‘” – Jesus, Luke 12:16-20

What may prove useful here is that across a few years and a minor distance, these two have both arrived at a similar teaching. The styles are for sure different, but in talking to the people that they are working with, they both downplay the point of “looking for comfort or happiness.” While it may not exactly seem transparent, what they’ve both said should have actually led their listeners to abandon their attempts at something that would actually work against them.

Essentially, to look for happiness makes it harder to find. There’s certainly more to come on this subject, but we hopefully have time to explore this in greater detail.


Today: Alcohol = None, Exercise = Minimal, Special Projects = Origami with 9 year old son:

…could have done with a much cleaner diet, but this close to the Holidays, it’s difficult to not end up eating cheese balls that other people offer me. I’ve been trying to make sure I’m eating fresh veggies along with the regular Christmas dishes of “Cheese and Potatoes in Cheesy Sauce.”

BMIS:

-ven

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