Does the pursuit of happiness make us happy? May be.
Activities that absorb us can also make us happy
Source: Nataliya Vaitkevich / Pexels
Happiness matters to everyone, but it’s only in the last few decades that policymakers and researchers have started to take happiness seriously.
The last few years, and especially during this time of COVID, have seen a deluge of self-help books, guided recordings, websites and manuals devoted to the meaning of happiness, how to achieve happiness. fulfillment and strategies to stay happy forever. There have been long volumes on the economics of happiness, the psychology of satisfaction, and the theories behind the new “politics of happiness” that has taken root in many countries around the world.
This focus on happiness can seem overwhelming. And sometimes it’s not clear if it makes us happier. I wonder: is not it?
In search of Bhutan
Part of the recent surge in interest in happiness has its roots in the Kingdom of Bhutan, a small, mountainous country in South Asia with a population of less than one million. Until the 1970s, Bhutan’s main point of distinction was that it had one of the smallest economies in the world, based primarily on forestry and agriculture. Economic progress, measured by traditional measures such as gross domestic product (GDP), has been minimal.
In 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the new king of Bhutan, attracted international attention by deciding that “gross national happiness”, instead of GDP, would be the unit by which national progress in Bhutan would henceforth be measured. Gross national happiness quickly became a key element in the country’s economic and social planning.
In Bhutan, gross national happiness rests on four key pillars: (1) good governance; (2) stable and equitable socio-economic development; (3) environmental protection; and (4) preservation of culture.
Bhutan’s focus on happiness has found strong support in various other countries around the world who are now placing more emphasis on happiness, well-being and life satisfaction when planning public policies. It’s a smart move: People value happiness more than most other things in life, including wealth. Happiness matters to everyone. It should also be important for governments.
The pursuit of happiness
One of the main problems with government efforts to increase happiness is that happiness can be difficult to find, let alone build on purpose. To complicate matters further, we often say that we want to be happy but seem to do essentially all we can to avoid it: we make the same bad choices over and over again. We neglect our diet and our lifestyles, and we fail to reach out to others in the way we would like them to reach out to us. Random events and life circumstances intervene, sometimes making it difficult to achieve happiness, at least for now.
With this in mind, it helps to value the pursuit of happiness as an intermediate step, in addition to valuing happiness itself. The pursuit of happiness has immense merit in itself, no matter how far the end of the road may seem. Effort has its own value and dignity.
As early as June 1776, the Virginia Bill of Rights stated “certain inherent rights” to the individual, notably “the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and of seeking and d ‘obtain happiness and security’.
The importance of seeking happiness, rather than necessarily finding it, was declared “evident” in the US Declaration of Independence in July: “We take these truths for granted, that all men are created. equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. These rights relate to life and freedom themselves, but to the “pursuit” of happiness rather than to happiness itself. We have the right to search, but what we find is up to us.
Absorption is one way
There are many ways to seek happiness. One of the most powerful is trying to distract from the end goal and focus on the present moment, possibly through some activity that absorbs us. There are many examples: running, swimming, gardening, knitting, reading, doing yoga, meditating.
Putting the world aside for periods of time is often the best way to appreciate our place in it, to gently move past the past, and forge a path into the future. Absorption is the key. Happiness often follows.
In the words of Henry David Thoreau: “Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you chase it the more it will escape you, but if you turn your attention to other things it will come and sit gently on your shoulder.” “