There is No Such Thing as Happiness (As We Commonly Know it)

“There is no such thing as happiness. Life bends joy and pain, beauty and ugliness, in such a way that no one may isolate them.” ~ Jean Toomer, Cane

The pursuit of happiness
Photo by Fernanda Greppe on Unsplash

What is happiness and what does it really mean to find happiness? Is it even possible? I have always found it interesting both in my personal and professional life that whenever someone says “I just want to be happy” and then when they’re asked “what does this happiness look like?” the majority of the time the answer is “I don’t know.” Then there are a few that claim “if this or that changes” and “I have more or less of this in my life, then I will be happy.” On the surface, these descriptions sound innocent enough, but the reality is that these descriptors of what happiness is are in fact often the very cause of many of these same individuals’ miseries. 

The Root of Misery

The root of this misery lies in the premise that happiness has some sort of mathematical formula, or that it can be worked for, earned, and achieved is an idea that underlies many of our assumptions and beliefs about happiness. The paradox though is happiness is not a solvable equation. The more someone attempts to pursue positive experiences, “happiness”, is in itself a negative experience because the more you pursue something, the more you can become easily fixated on what you believe you may be lacking. See social media.

Modern Notions of Happiness

The ancient philosophers of both the western and eastern worlds would likely have looked at us with bewilderment toward our modern notion of happiness. To them, happiness was indeed the principal aim in life, but they had a very different definition of happiness.  Instead of seeing happiness as an emotional state or an event, happiness was about living one’s life in accord with our place in the natural world and accepting there is suffering and discomfort. A.k.a. “problems.” 

If happiness can exist, then it can only exist from solving our life’s problems. The keyword here is “solving.” If you’re trying to constantly avoid problems and discomfort in your life, or you feel like you don’t have any problems, then you’re going to make yourself very unhappy. If you feel like you have unsolvable problems, you will also make yourself miserable. The secret ingredient is in the solving of problems, not in the attempt to avoid having problems in the first place because problems never stop; they merely get exchanged or upgraded.  

Make Happiness a State of Being

So how does this relate to therapy? Well, to be happy, we need something to solve to arrive at a place where your happiness is a state of being rather than a future goal. To solve these problems, you need to have an honest dialogue with yourself. You need to ask yourself the following:

  • Are you living in alignment with your values?
  • What are the standards, principles, and things that are truly meaningful in your life?
  • What are the things that give you a sense of significance, a sense of purpose?
  • What motivates you? What are the things that feed your passion? 

Answering these questions identifies the problems you value are worth struggling for and wish to solve. Bottom line – instead of searching for what feels good, maybe we should ask ourselves, “What in my life am I willing to struggle for?” 


About Bradd Buckingham, M.A., LPC-R; Resident in Counseling: 

Bradd is currently a resident in counseling providing counseling services at our Fredericksburg location. He is actively pursuing his license in Professional Counseling (LPC). Bradd is a recent graduate of The University of the Cumberlands with a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He completed a demanding internship working with individuals and couples at Fredericksburg Counseling Services.  

Bradd specializes in working with individuals with complex trauma, personality disorders, anxiety, and depression. He can offer a safe environment for individuals and families in the LGBTQ community, as well as individuals with a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. 

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