The thing we mess up about happiness

Focusing on what makes us feel that way


Pleasure, joy, bliss or happiness… any positive feeling derived from external sources is inherently not the same as those that are intrinsic.

I offer up all of the words altogether, because it’s easy to get hung up on the diction. Like, just over this weekend, I read two different authors who held opposite definitions — one used “joy” to mean intrinsic and “pleasure(s)” to mean extrinsic; while Erich Fromm used the opposite, saying:

“Happiness and joy although, in a sense, subjective experiences, are the outcome of interactions with, and depend on, objective conditions and must be not confused with the merely subjective pleasure experience.”

Personally I prefer the first definition. But that’s not the point.

It doesn’t matter which word we use to mean which thing. What matters is that we understand:

There’s a difference between real and fake “positive state of being”

And a lot of what we pursue as “positive” is really false.

“A person, for instance, takes a trip and is consciously happy; yet he may have this feeling because happiness is what he is supposed to experience on a pleasure trip; actually, he may be unconsciously disappointed and unhappy.” — Fromm

We can do the same thing with our work and jobs, sometimes because it keeps us pseudo-active, like playing a game of cards.

And, of course, most of us do this with much of leisure time, either falling into passive activities or taking up “pseudo active” ones, all of which serve more to distract us than actually use our attention, awareness, creative purposes, or mind. We over-eat and over-drink and use drugs, sure — those are the first ones that come to mind. But we also compulsively socialize because we can’t sit alone. We’re compulsively on social media. We compulsively work out. We compulsively craft, volunteer, “learn for fun.”

But when it’s “chasing” and frantic rather than present, it’s not real. When deep down, we’re using it to cover up or fill a gap, it’s not real. And when it still leaves us feeling a little hollow, it’s not real.

So what’s real “positive state of being?”

Just that. A state of being, that is positive. It’s in you. It is independent of anything you’re doing on the outside.

And that’s not to say that we can’t enjoy things that come to us, or be affected, but none of this is real “positive state of being” (happiness, joy, pleasure, bliss) if we don’t already have that state of mind.

The happiest people I know are happy regardless — they’re happy on a bus, they’re happy in traffic, waiting in line, drinking bad coffee at a cheap diner, and, yeah, sure, they’re happy “indulging” — but for them, it truly is just icing on the cake.

The unhappiest people I know chase. They’re never happy. Some of unhappiest are the people who put on the charade of pretending. Though the most unbearable to be around are the ones who don’t even bother.

This is my biggest problem with trying to “get” happiness by asking ourselves “what makes you happy?”, framing up this state of mind as forever-dependent on external things, as though in order to get it, we have to build a life around getting a never-ending supply of them. Nothing “makes” us happy.

Real happiness is intrinsic; something we choose, and are. Happy is innately only ours.

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