I have a love-hate relationship with the word happiness.
On one hand, I love the idea of pursuing happiness. I want people to be mindful of choosing happiness. I want happiness to matter, to be something that people value and even prioritize in their life.
On the other hand, the word itself gets in the way of our ability to experience it, because it means too many things and not enough at once.
In The Happiness Myth, author Jennifer Michael Hecht defines three types of happiness:
- a moment of happiness
- a good day,
- and a happy life.
The problem is that our pursuit of these different kinds of happiness can be in conflict with one another. For example, focusing all of our efforts on achieving some huge goal we assume will give us a happy life might interfere with our ability to have happy moments. Or, we could choose to only chase after immediate happiness at the expense of long-term health and wellness (think: ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
When I say that I am in pursuit of happiness, I don’t mean that I am trying to be happy all the time.
Being happy all the time is not normal or even healthy, and it will not lead to a happy life. A happy life encompasses the broad spectrum of human emotion, including grief, sorrow, fear, and anger.
You cannot have a happy life if you are happy all the time.
It’s inauthentic. It’s not wholehearted. If you are happy all the time, you are shoving down important stuff that is – or soon will be – oozing out into your life in places where you don’t want stuff oozing.
But, a happy life is made up of happy moments.
Short-term happiness, while not the only necessary ingredient, does contribute to long-term happiness.
The more we seek out and choose happy moments, the happier our whole life will be. And if we don’t seek them out, if we don’t pay attention to them when they show up, we can wake up at the end of a long pursuit and wonder how in the hell we missed all the good that has passed.
Maybe the word happiness is not big enough to cover a good life.
I probably should have thought of that when I named my blog and my book.
But there’s also something special about the simplicity of the word. When you ask people what they want, their immediate response is “to be happy.” It’s also what they want for their loved ones, especially their children.
“I just want you to be happy.”
Perhaps what we’re really saying, what I’m really pursuing, is the opportunity to be as happy as possible, the strength to weather the inevitable unhappiness, and the wisdom to embrace them both.
I want you to be happy.
And I want you to be brave enough to feel sad, mad, and bad sometimes.
Because in the end, being happy means being all of those things, too.
What do you think? Are you chasing happy moments or building a happy life?