Should Happiness Really Be the Goal?


Happiness_is_by_aurelixAccording to renowned psychiatrist Peter Kramer, happiness isn’t the opposite of depression.

Resilience is.

I’ve always loved that reminder because the word “happiness” makes me uneasy.

It’s not that I want to be unhappy, or I don’t want to be happy. It’s that every time I make happiness my goal, I become very unhappy. Like that famous study about suppressing thoughts of white polar bears. When everyone was instructed to think about anything but a white polar bear, they all thought about a white polar bear.

To be completely honest, I even hate the “life is good” t-shirts.

I prefer the “life is crap” ones, such as the one with the cruise ship about to plow over the guy in the canoe. Whenever my husband wears that one, it puts me in a good mood.

I smiled at the discussion on my online depression community, Project Beyond Blue, called “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Maggie, a young mother of five kids and one of the group’s administrators, had just read “Eat, Pray, Love” – about author Elizabeth Gilbert’s quest to “leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life” (the Amazon description). Maggie was a tad frustrated by the entire concept. She wrote:

“It’s probably because I’m a cradle Catholic, but I found this whole journey of hers to be innately selfish and egocentric. I mean, we’re all human. Who wouldn’t be happy with no money worries for a year, doing whatever you wanted, with whomever you wanted, wherever you wanted? I think even a week of this lifestyle would be enough to make me feel “happy.” But this year-long journey of self-discovery is totally unrealistic to me. It’s like looking at someone’s Facebook page that just loves to put up pictures of their latest vacations, or their brand new, custom-built home. Yes, there is some envy mixed in there. I fully admit that. But my fear is that too many people these days are buying into this whole notion of ‘do whatever makes you happy.’”

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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3 Responses
  1. Frank

    Peace and/or resilience are good enough. I’ve struggled with the idea of being happy because it seemed not to be sustainable – not very green. But I wanted it or the best approximation I could discover. So the biblical joy seems to be more about peace or contentment that the happiness of finding a crisp $100 mixed in with my ones.

  2. Kate

    I really like the idea of not trying to be happy. It’s actually freeing because when you struggle with depression working towards actually being happy seems impossible. I’d be “happy” to feel OK or as you said at peace. Happy is a lofty goal and as pointed out in the article can be a self centered pursuit. Just feeling even and content for an extended period of time would be wonderful.

  3. debern

    Yes I tire of seeing people post “Life is Good” articles and selfies with their latest glamor shots, new dress, makeup, latest bling, etc. I know so many who paste on a “I am happy smile” that I don’t even think most people are happy anymore, they just want people to think they are. Guess I’d do that too if I cared what people think, but I don’t and I try not to judge but keep my opinions to myself. Today, though, just thought I’d share 🙂