The Pursuit of Happiness: Are You Looking In The Right Place? (Part 1) Written by Dr Linda Berman.


       Image: Nellies, Flickr. Waiting in line at the supermarket.

How strange that I have chosen such a mundane photograph as the one above, to illustrate a post on happiness……

Surely I should have picked one that shows people jumping for joy, or surrounded by luxury in some amazingly swanky location?

Something more like this:


Can Happiness Be Bought?

It would appear that, despite the appeal of a life of luxury, such excesses do not bring happiness. They may bring a momentary thrill, a fleeting pleasure, but these feelings are just that, superficial, sensational, immediately gratifying, short-lived in their appeal.

“How exquisitely human was the wish for permanent happiness, and how thin human imagination became trying to achieve it.” 
 Toni Morrison

Happiness, on the other hand, is not usually something we can buy, yet people pursue money as if it can bring us happiness. This demonstrates a distinct lack of vision.  Of course, money can sometimes make our lives easier, but it certainly is not the golden key to happiness.


So Can We Actually Pursue Happiness, chase it like some elusive butterfly? 
Where is the legendary key to happiness hidden? Can we search for it? Or is it a myth?
Look again at the photograph at the top of this post. Could this hold within it the key to happiness? Like the children’s game “Where’s Wally?” we could look at the photograph and, figuratively speaking, imagine where that artfully hidden key might lie.

Little minds are interested in the extraordinary; great minds in the commonplace.

Elbert Hubbard

Could this key to happiness be hidden in the man in the top photo with the orange shirt? Perhaps he has bought something for his new love, for whom he is cooking dinner tonight? Maybe. Maybe not. We can only surmise.
But the point is, if we are happy in our lives, we can feel just as happy- or miserable- in a supermarket queue as anywhere else. It is all about attitude, mindset.
Think about it……

Haemin Sunim

What the wise Buddhist teacher above is surely saying is that happiness does not depend on the external. It is about our inner world, our own approach to life. If we have creative and constructive ways of thinking and being, then we can be happy even doing the most mundane of tasks.

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”
Marcus Aurelius

Happiness: The Paradox

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
Albert Camus

The more you chase happiness, the harder it is to grasp. Even if you are not chasing it, perhaps you are waiting, waiting for something wonderful to happen. This is like Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, who waste time expecting something that will never arrive.

Whilst people wait for happiness, they may miss getting on with their life; they will not see opportunities and overlook what is in front of their eyes.

That is why happiness is paradoxical. The more you search for it, the less you find it.

“Happiness is an art of the indirect that is achieved or not through secondary goals…”

Pascal Bruckner

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” Viktor Frankl.

Happiness is most often random, unexpected, a beautiful surprise. It cannot be manufactured; the synthetic ‘happiness’ that is peddled in advertisements or department stores is just that: contrived, mass-produced, constructed.



Here’s the rub (or perhaps that golden key) : it’s actually  all about ways of thinking….

Whilst unhappy and problematic experiences at some time befall everyone, some people do seem to have pain in bucketloads.

The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, however,  despite his severe disability, was able to experience happiness:

“I don’t have much positive to say about motor neuron disease. But it taught me not to pity myself, because others were worse off and to get on with what I still could do. I’m happier now than before I developed the condition. I am lucky to be working in theoretical physics, one of the few areas in which disability is not a serious handicap.

My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”

New York Times

Perhaps what we might learn from these wonderfully courageous words is that happiness is not about being free of  problems. It is to do with how we manage them and our manner of coping with them.


When we go through difficult times, remembering the Buddhist concept of impermanence can be helpful.  Thinking that ‘This too shall pass’ gives us the ability to wait.

Whilst some things will never change, there are other aspects of our life that we can control and that are able to be changed and developed. Like Stephen Hawking, perhaps we can grasp the elusive nature of happiness in order to focus, more happily, on we can still do……


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