No surprise here: there’s another book out on happiness. The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha. Pasricha is the one who wrote The Book of Awesome, which birthed three more Awesome books, a popular TED talk and hundreds of speaking engagements around the world.
Based on the success of Awesome, you’d think Pasricha would be pretty darned happy. “I don’t feel like I’ve achieved any next-level enlightenment or nirvana,” he told Cathy Gulli for “Why you’re never happy”, a recent Maclean’s article. “I have intense daily, weekly and monthly net struggles.” Consequently, Pasricha quit his executive position at Wal-Mart to focus more on happiness.
But is that perhaps the problem with happiness? The thing that can make it so elusive? Our attempt to “focus” on it? Over breakfast this morning, I mentioned this to my husband B. Whoa! “My husband B”. First time in print folks; I guess it’s official. Anyway, B puffed out his chest and said, “Hey. I’m American. It’s written into my constitution as one of my rights: ‘the pursuit of happiness’. I’m happy to pursue it.”
Then we talked about how, even though I suggested choosing “unconditional happiness” in The Happiness Game, happiness is a lifelong journey, with what Pasricha likes to call “high highs” and “lumps and bumps”. For instance, I’m pretty darned happy that B wanted to marry me AND that both of our wedding ceremonies – Canadian and American – went lovingly and smoothly. However, I’m sad (and let’s face it, embarrassed) that my gigantic coughing fit disrupted our vows on that beach in Florida. And, no. It was not cold feet.
Don’t you think a person must experience one thing to fully appreciate its opposite? Light, dark. Cold, warmth. Hunger, satiation. Pain, pleasure.
I actually “lol”ed – which I don’t often do – at my writer friend Richard Campbell’s response to the notion of “unconditional happiness”. “That would be terrible,” he wrote. “Creativity comes from chaos and change. Neither of these is conducive to happiness, at least in the very short-term.”
Narratives thrive on conflict. No conflict, no story.
Speaking of thriving, writer Gulli, of the Maclean’s article, feels that we all face a huge dilemma: “We live in an era when the human instinct to survive has morphed into the complex desire to thrive.” Wow. That’s why it’s so hard! It’s “complex”.
Says Gulli, “The brain is hard-wired to anticipate and detect negative things as a matter of survival. But thriving requires seeing the upside of everything all the time. And that really is proving to be an uphill struggle.”
“The upside of everything all the time”? Like “unconditional happiness”, that’s asking a bit much, don’t you think? In Pasricha’s TED talk, he feels that when faced with “lumps and bumps” you have two choices: 1) doom and gloom or 2) grieve and face the future, taking baby steps toward a better mood. Having tried both myself, trust me, the second choice is funner and more rewarding.
Pasricha’s studies indicate we’re no happier now than 50 years ago, so what should we do? Maybe that’s the problem: all of the “do”ing. Says Pasricha, “We all want to do, do do, and achieve, achieve. Our culture is trending toward this whir, whir, you can hear the engine firing up. It’s like you can’t stop getting better.”
We set the bar, get there, the bar goes up. And therein lies the difficulty with continually setting goals outside of oneself. “Extrinsic goals are either bad for you or they have no effect on well-being,” says Veronika Huta, a psychologist and professor at the University of Ottawa.
And so, once again, to find happiness – or any kind of peace in this life – you are forced to look within. If you’ve never looked there before, you might be scared, and you might not know exactly what it is you’re looking for, or even how. But there are so many great spiritual teachers – Deepak Chopra, Don Miguel Ruiz, Wayne Dyer – and practices – yoga, meditation – and courses to aid your spiritual journey. I used to think there’d be this profound moment of enlightenment, but no. For me anyway, it’s just been an ongoing journey of discovery. Of acceptance. Learning to just “be”. Says His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “Usually my advice for beginners is to be patient; have few expectations of yourself. It is most important to be an honest member of the human community. Whether or not you understand profound ideas, it is important to be a good person wherever you are right now.”
On the topic of happiness in his book How to Be Compassionate, the Dalai Lama says, “Foolish people are always thinking only of themselves, and the result is always negative. Wise people think of others, helping them as much as they can, and the result is happiness. Love and compassion are beneficial, both for you and for others. Through kindness toward others, your mind and heart will open to peace.”