Don’t pursue happiness. It’s not only futile but also damaging to health
Striving to be cheerful is not only flawed but literally unhealthy; instead replace it with the quest for meaning in life say experts.health and fitness Updated: Feb 03, 2017 07:46 IST
Many of our New Year resolutions have one common underlying goal — happiness. And while it is debatable which road to happiness should one tread on, here’s a thought — what if pursuing happiness in itself was futile?
One of the most common posits for the critics of positive psychology has been, ‘you can’t always make yourselves happy’. Apparently, several studies conducted by behavioural scientists including one headed by Iris Mauss, associate professor, University of Berkeley, USA — draws out one common conclusion — those who pursue happiness tend not to be [happy]. Mauss’s study published states: “Paradoxically, therefore, valuing happiness may lead people to be less happy just when happiness is within reach.”
Namrata Dagia, clinical psychologist, The Illuminating Zone, Kandivali (W), explains why the chase for happiness can backfire. “There is a tendency that one might end up feeling negative even when he or she has few positive goals framed. Realistically, there are several factors that lead to negative consequences. For instance, none of us are perfect and we learn from our mistakes and at times few people are not prepared to deal with failures. They end up feeling upset and low on confidence and so on. If this pattern is prolonged such negative cycles will not only have an unhealthy impact psychologically, but physically as well. It might cause disturbed patterns of sleep, irregular eating habits or so on,” she says.
The good life
Alternatively, pursuing meaning in life has better chances of keeping one happy and healthy. In a recent book, The Power Of Meaning: Crafting A Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith, the author suggests that “the search for meaning can immeasurably deepen our lives and is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness”.
One can draw an analogy from the recent Will Smith-starrer Collateral Beauty, (2016) in which, the lead character played by Smith understands “how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning”.
Neeta V Shetty, psychotherapist and life coach, Blissful Mind Therapy Centre, Wadala (E), says “Creating an impact or living from the soul creates happiness, which is not shallow, self-centred or short-term. Instead, this kind of happiness that is derived from a sense of purpose and meaning is something which remains for a lifetime.”
She further gives the example of late Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl who developed the theory of logotherapy, which states that a man can survive any disaster or ordeal if he has a sense of purpose. “Finding things that really matter and pursuing them gives you the highest satisfaction,” says Shetty.
No easy way
At times, pursuing the meaning of life gets difficult as it tends to be cumbersome (volunteering for a charity or social cause). It is also a human tendency to pay attention to the problems if the immediate end result is not in one’s favour.
According to Dagia, being consciously realistic is the key to deal with this. “It’s important to keep the focus clear and it is okay to feel low for a while. The need to achieve meaning should be so intense that it should be the motivating factor in itself,” she says.
Shetty lists the reasons why happiness may not turn out to be beneficial:
Career: Achieving a particular status or position may surprise you with newer responsibilities, the stress of which may surpass the happiness of the promotion.
Relationship goals: One’s personal relationships may not shape out the way they want it to be. All the expectations and needs may remain unfulfilled. It is a myth that partnerships always culminate in happy endings.
Materialistic pleasures: The thrill of possessing the latest car or a gadget in hand may wear off within a few months when it becomes outdated, and may lead to disappointment.
Substances or alcohol: They may offer you short-term happiness but may turn to be extremely detrimental to your life and health if there is dependency.
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The author tweets @iamsusanjose