How often have you said, “I just want to be happy.” How often have you said to someone else, “I just want you to be happy.” What does that even mean? People chase after happiness like it’s a destination to be found. They spend years hunting for the Holy Grail that supposedly leads to happiness. All abroad—ride the train to happyland.
Happy is an emotion—not a state of being. A person cannot achieve constant happiness or feel constant sadness. Feelings come and feelings go.
“Most of us probably don’t believe we need a formal definition of happiness; we know it when we feel it, and we often use the term to describe a range of positive emotions, including joy, pride, contentment, and gratitude.” www.greatergood.berkeley.edu.
Matt Haig, author of Notes on A nervous Planet,writes “You will be happy when people like you. You will be happy when more people like you. You will be happy when everyone likes you. You will be happy when people dream of you.”
But the Happiness Train is perpetually out of reach. So, we keep huffing and puffing along.
Haig continues, “You will be happy when you are in a relationship. You will be happy when you get married. You will be happy when you have children. You will be happy when your children are the kind of children you want them to be. You will be happy when you leave home. You will be happy when you buy a house. You will happy when you pay off the mortgage.”
Are we happy yet? You will be happy when you get a divorce. You will be happy when you lose weight. You will be happy when you retire. You will be happy when you win the lottery.
Here’s the kicker when one partner wants to end a relationship. “I love you, but I’m not in love with you. I’m just not happy.” Give me a break. “I don’t love us anymore.” Give me another break.
“Many people believe that happiness is having fun at a party, the excitement of new experiences, the thrill and passion of sex, or the delights of a fine meal. These are all wonderful experiences to be cherished and cultivated but they are not happiness. These experiences are the definition of pleasure. They are experiences to have and let pass…Chasing pleasure is not happiness.” www.happinessinternational.org.
Is happiness a place? Shambala is a mythical Buddhist kingdom. The 1973 hit song “Shambala” by Three Dog Night celebrates the road to Shambala, but the destination is not forthcoming. The 1960’s proved to be a turbulent time in for America’s youth. LSD, marijuana, cocaine. “The sixties culminated with perhaps the biggest public scene of drug use ever: Woodstock. American youth in the sixties turned to drugs for a variety of reasons including the Vietnam War, the feeling of rebellion, activist movements, and the general pleasure-oriented society.” Did the hippies catch their Happiness Train in sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll?
“Throughout American history, each generation has sought to individualize itself from all others preceding it. Decades of American history can be separated to represent a distinctive set of values, culture, and political ideals. The 1960's was a decade caught between euphoric, idealistic beginnings and a discordant, violent climax.” www.bartleby.com.
Are we happy yet? Generation X is the demographic cohort following the baby boomers and preceding the Millennials. Generation Z refers to the generation that was born between 1996-2010, following millennials. Generation Alpha is the group born after Generation Z, and the most technological-infused demographic up to date—interacting with Artificial Intelligence is natural. Generation after generation continues to chase the Happiness Train.
Money does not equal happy. Skinny does not equal happy. Fame does not equal happy.
What is happiness? Ask a homeless person. Ask a war refugee. Ask someone diagnosed with terminal cancer. Ask a person fighting for freedom and democracy in a communist country. Ask a victim of sex trafficking. Ask an individual that is suffering. Ask a citizen in America and then a citizen in North Korea.
A group of world religious leaders from the Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faiths met in Geneva Switzerland during 1999. They issued a document, The Geneva Spiritual Appeal, asking political and religious leaders and organizations to ensure that religions are not used to justify violence in the future. www.religioustolerance.org.
Are we happy yet? Turn to the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, the words of David, king in Jerusalem. I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
Are you chasing the Happiness Train?
Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in U.S.