A common pursuit, especially nowadays is ‘to find happiness’. Whether we are doing it consciously, or at times unconsciously, this search for happiness is a common quest we all have shared at one point. But what is ‘happiness’ and is it something that can truly be found? This is a question that remains to intrigue members from all disciplines and walks of life.
World’s Happiest Man
Matthieu Ricard is a Tibetan Buddhist monk who has often been called ‘the world’s happiest man’. Originally from France, Ricard participated in a 12 year brain study on meditation and compassion that was led by neuroscientist Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin.
Davidson found that when Ricard meditated on compassion that his brain had an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity.
Happiness is a Skill
Ricard who has written numerous books on the subject himself, states that being happy all boils down to altruism. To stop focusing our mind on me, me, me as it puts you in a state of seeing “the world as a threat, or as a potential interest to yourself”. Instead, he says, happiness is more than just an emotion. It is a skill that can be developed.
“By happiness I mean here a deep sense of flourishing that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind. This is not a mere pleasurable feeling, a fleeting emotion, or a mood, but an optimal state of being. Happiness is also a way of interpreting the world, since while it may be difficult to change the world, it is always possible to change the way we look at it.”
― Mathieu Ricard
The Happiness of Pursuit
Then there is the viewpoint that the search for happiness is a paradox in itself. Which is why Chris Guillebeau, author of The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life, makes a case that it is not the ‘pursuit for happiness’ but the pursuit itself that leads to a happy and more fulfilling life.
In his book, he shares a collection of real life case studies of individuals who have challenged themselves with a quest that took them out of their comfort zone. What it showed was that pursuing a goal led to a fulfilled life and that happiness resulted as a byproduct when it wasn’t the goal in itself.
“If you’ve ever felt a strange sense of sadness or alienation, there’s a potential way out of the confusion- just shift this feeling into a sense of purpose. It’s not about happiness, although happiness often results from doing something you love. Instead, it’s about challenge and fulfilment, finding the perfect combination of striving and achievement that comes from reaching a big goal.”
— Chris Guillebeau
Living with Gratitude
Research coming from Positive Psychology has shown that cultivating gratitude contributes towards a greater feeling of happiness. When reflecting on my own experiences with happiness, I have found that gratitude allows you to refocus your attention on what you have, rather than what you lack.
While it is evident that what it means to be happy will mean different things to different people, perhaps the way to get to experience happiness is more universal (and simple) than we think.