Image of a river

The Pursuit Of Happiness

Chasing happiness? Stop it! 

The pursuit of happiness, as most of us understand it, is a futile undertaking. It leads to addiction and exploitation as we attempt to find whatever it is we think happiness might be, which most of us appear to confuse with pleasure.

Happiness is not something you can capture or find outside of yourself. It’s a feeling you choose or an attitude you adopt. No-one can give it to you except for yourself and, likewise, people can’t take it away from you. You don’t need to pursue it. You only need to express it.

From a mystical perspective, happiness arises from allowing life to unfold without resistance or trying to control everything and dictate outcomes. It’s an attitude that allows you to go with the flow of the river of life instead of determinedly paddling upstream against it.

The pursuit of happiness, on the other hand, is driven by our desire to have things go our way or by our desire to be in control. But, it’s an illusion, or maybe even a delusion, to think you can actually control things or manipulate the process of life. Of course, this hasn’t stopped us from trying, has it? 

But instead of happiness, mostly we find frustration and disappointment when we try to control life. So, why do we do it?

I suspect the pursuit of happiness comes from a misunderstanding of the term in this line from the US Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I don’t believe the the framers of the declaration meant the pursuit of pleasure when they wrote those words. I suspect ‘the pursuit of happiness’ was how they worded their idea about having the right to make a better life for yourself. 

Making a better life for yourself is a different ballgame. It’s got nothing to do with pleasure but with improving the circumstances in which you live. Interestingly, this works best when we work together to build a better world for all of us – instead of adopting the narrow focus of only making a better life for ourselves.


Peter Mulraney is the author of My Life Is My Responsibility and Mystical Journey.

Featured Image by Steven Gonzales on Unsplash

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