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Happiness is the Wrong Target

Why aiming for happiness may be the wrong goal for our modern lives.

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According to the United Nations today, March 20th, is International Day of Happiness and it makes me mad! When you ask people what they want in life, often the automatic answer is ‘I want to be happy’. You might think that this is a very reasonable aspiration for anybody but I believe it is a very dangerous target and here’s why.

We are living in a world of social media where people are putting their best foot forward in portraying their best moments. Often when you are being bombarded with constant positive images of the lives of others it can force one to compare and comparison can lead to feelings of inadequacy starting a decline to sadness and eventually to a state of depression.

So why does the United Nations believe it is important to celebrate happiness? According to the UN website this is the background.

The General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution 66/281 of 12 July 2012 proclaimed 20 March the International Day of Happiness, recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives. It also recognized the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

The resolution was initiated by Bhutan, a country which recognized the value of national happiness over national income since the early 1970s and famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product. It also hosted a High Level Meeting on “Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” during the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly.

So you might say the objectives are laudable however the real goal actually seems to be about well-being and sustainability. I believe that the world’s obsession with happiness is setting it up for failure.

It is impossible to be happy all the time unless maybe you are medically assisted as many unfortunately are in the world today because they are not equipped with the tools to fight the daily battles we all face.

If you can experience moments of joy now and again, that is a worthy achievement and you should savour each and everyone. However, if people can be happy living in a world today that has so much hurt, through hunger and poverty, health and diseases, abuse and violence, with the mental health of many under pressure and some simply hanging on by a thread, then those people who are constantly happy must truly lack any level of empathy for those around them who are in pain.

The UN tells us that 800,000 take their own lives through suicide every year. That is one person every 40 seconds. That is a frightening statistic. There is something very wrong and we need to put it right.

Life is a struggle. Life is wonderful but it can be very difficult to navigate. However if your target is happiness then I believe you are setting yourself up for certain failure. In fact with all the challenges that life throws at each person, if you are simply doing ok today, then to my mind, that’s actually great.

So if happiness is not the answer what should we as individuals be focused on? I believe the best target is two-fold. Firstly you should aim to develop a deep sense of personal satisfaction in who you are as an individual (truly understanding yourself) and secondly have a deep sense of satisfaction in what you are achieving with your life. (purpose). If you can achieve that you have struck gold.

Using your gifts and talents to do good and ease the burden on those who are struggling will give you all the joy you need and will provide you with a deep satisfaction that will be longer lasting that any momentary fleeting feelings of happiness. Focusing on the impact you can have as an individual on the lives of other people will also provide you with greater levels of resilience to face your own battles in life.

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