A couple of years ago, I spoke to a close friend who was heading for divorce from his third wife. He had bought a combie van and was driving down the east coast of Australia in pursuit of…well…happiness, he told me. “I just want to be happy”, he said. I know he was shocked when my response was, ” Happiness isn’t the goal in life.”
Everyone wants to be happy, that is true, and that is a good thing. But when the pursuit of happiness is your ultimate goal, as if happiness is a destination, then you’ll never get there.
Happiness is not in having a ‘perfect’ marriage, having a life devoid of stress or conflict, having enough money to do the things you want, living on the beach, having healthy children, being beautiful, successful, rich… Yes, those things can make us feel happy, but they are not happiness. If they were, then how do you explain the joy in people in African villages where famine, war, disease and poverty are rife. How can they be happy? Aren’t they disappointed with life? Isn’t there more they want?
I’m reading the book Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic, the man who was born with no limbs…no limbs…How can he be happy? Isn’t life one big disappointment? Hasn’t he failed before he even started?
The answer lies in this fact: happiness is an art; a learned skill, a decision, a choice. An ability to rise above your circumstances and find joy regardless.
I have friends who have lost children, friends who are alcholics, drug addicts, friends who lost every cent they had in bad business situations, friends who’ve lost loved ones too cancer to young. The differences I see are marked: some can still smille, laugh, find meaning in life, while others are still struggling to come to terms with their loss, even decades later, and refuse to see the beauty in the world any longer.
Happiness is a choice. It is waking up in the morning with pain in your heart, and yet choosing to feel the warmth of the sun on your back, savoring a cup of coffee with a loved friend, making the decision to feel joy even though life has been cruel. Happiness is the pursuit of a positive state of mind despite the difficulties, set back boredom, pain, heartache.
Happiness is an art, and one that we all need to learn to do better.