The Irony Of Happiness

Too often we think of action not as an experience to be lived for its own sake but as a means to some end and if that end is not achieved we regard the action as a failure. Furthermore we believe that we must have the end clearly in view before the action begins and that every step in the action must be logically related to the end. Otherwise, how could we ever achieve results; how could we ever ‘make’ things happen?
— Parker Palmer

I’ve been thinking a lot about the irony of happiness. 


As a culture, we’ve made happiness the ultimate goal (beautifully so), knowing on the surface that money and nice things make living life comfortable and fun, but also knowing deep down that happiness is what really matters and what we should really be striving towards. Again, this is a beautiful thing, but as with anything we put at the “top” like that, it has the potential to become a point of stress.

It becomes another thing we must have, something to relentlessly pursue, and something we are made to feel guilty about should we find ourselves lacking it. After all, it’s the “it” thing to have, right?

Happiness is in right now (as it should be) but ironically, I think in our desperate pursuit of it, we’ve lost sight of what it really means.

We’re so obsessed with trying to be happy, happy, happy that we’ve actually ended up giving ourselves anxiety about it. Furthermore, we’ve framed happiness as a destination, an endpoint as a result of our actions, forgetting that happiness isn’t tomorrow or 20 years from now… it’s right now.

It’s not something that you get after you do X, Y & Z…
happiness is X, Y & Z.

In the process of chasing this ultimate goal, we’re actually often unhappy, and I think it has a lot to do with how we perceive happiness (and also how we perceive most of our life pursuits.)

We’re a very “destination focused” culture. We celebrate graduations, milestone anniversaries, birthdays— all of which are, in some sense, destinations— and rightfully so. I’m not arguing achievements should cease to be celebrated. 

But what about the in between?

What about the experience?

I love what Parker Palmer suggests in this quote from his book, “The Active Life,” that we are so destination focused that we miss out on the “experience to be lived for its own sake” entirely. And worse than that, we begin with an end in mind and insist on only taking steps toward that end because, I mean, life would just not happen unless we made it happen, right?

The great news that’s hard for many of us to grasp is this: life is going to happen no matter what you plan for. There’s no need to “make” anything happen, especially something like happiness. 

If you want to be happy, be. It doesn’t really matter if you’re happy tomorrow if you’re unhappy today, right? 

process > product

experience > end result

How can you become more experience focused and less destination focused this week?