I wonder if you could relate to this picture as I do? Often, I concentrate so hard on the next “happiness” at a seemingly insurmountable cliff, but entirely neglect to savor the joy those rays of sunshine have always afforded me each moment I exist.
Happiness, how do you define it?
My pursuit of happiness started when I was very young. My childhood was not particularly joyful. There was constant pressure to perform. My life was an endless race to reach the next goal post so I could feel lovable. I needed to be better than others so I could survive. It was a result of the scarcity mentality that poverty instilled into a whole generation of Chinese parents like mine.
Even if life was without the complication of intergenerational trauma, I had many other natural needs that drove me. As a baby, I wanted to be fed and my diapers changed. I expressed our discomfort through crying. Then as I became older, being happy is wearing a new dress or eat something I really loved. I can express displeasure through a combination of crying and verbal protests. In school, happiness became about getting the perfect score and ranking top of my class. Then for a long time, it was going on a date with someone I liked and getting paid well for jobs. With the achievement(or giving up) and passing of some of those pursuits, it became more obvious that happiness at the end of something is always a result not a process. It is fleeting. Can it be ever-lasting or is it only meant for the end of the journey? Do you define it as a state or an achievement?
A client of mine told me that happiness is being able to breathe without an inhaler. He had severe asthma that panic attacks brought on. Another told me happiness would be to be able to sit in first class on a plane. One woman in my pro-bono consultation said happiness is finding a husband who is loyal and provides well; while another insisted only a husband who has a clear understanding of racial and gender equality and comfortable with emotional intimacy can make her happy. Who is right? I think each can only judge for oneself. And you are also welcome to disagree with me on that. There is no competition in suffering, neither is there in happiness. I believe we each must define for ourselves, like many things in life. This includes whether happiness comes in the pursuit or at the end of it.
My Understanding of Happiness
For me, happiness has become somewhat of an artificial goal human society has constructed for us. The truth, I, you, and they are all born perfectly whole. I eat and drink to regulate physical needs, cry, and laugh to soothe emotional ones. I need people to provide warmth and love as a child, but as an adult I have all the skills and emotional capacity to make myself comfortable. My natural state isn’t happy or unhappy. It is dynamic and whole. It possesses the beauty and joy of being as nature intended to be. However, as human society invented money, politics, fame, and awards, along with many other wonderful human concepts, happiness comes to be defined as the attainment of the top status in the rankings of various kinds. The fear of unhappiness took away the security that comes with just being me. The joy of feeling naturally whole is overshadowed by the want of human happiness I have learned. Even as I have begun to reclaim that wholesomeness, I am flooded with reminders of what I am lacking. I am not the favored race or gender, I don’t have the most resources, I am not respected by the public, and my age is not the most desirable in the mating pool. The list goes on. I am sure everyone can make a long list of areas they want more validation. The energy required to seek affirmation generates unhappiness because it is accompanied with anxiety not pleasure.
Pursue it without attachment
I fight for change. I reach out for what I deserve. I speak out for my clients. I also must live with the dynamics of the larger environment while I fight. I cannot avoid recognizing signals that make me feel less than respected in various aspects. Even when some days, I achieve some sort of euphoria in my circumstances, it is only for that moment. If the only thing constant is change itself, I can count on having to continuously exert myself in the pursuit of human happiness. It is always a moment-to-moment dynamic between my environment, human or otherwise, and myself. Perhaps this is the privilege and price I pay for the opportunity to exist as a human.
As a creature of the universe, I am eternally comforted by the thought that I co-exist with the oceans, trees, the animals, other humans, and even the inanimate objects we create. I am no less wonderful than the towering mountain nor more important than a tiny shrimp. In that sense of wholeness, I will always have that eternal happiness at my beck and call.