The pursuit of happiness – trying to be happy or being happy?

Ah the new year … full of promise, resolutions, new beginnings, giving up chocolate, taking up running, reading more, socialising more, complaining less … a massive self-improvement program that is birthed with the new year.

I have always found it kind of funny that we start this new program on the one day of the year when many are a little tired and emotional from the evening’s festivities. 

The idea of rising with the dawn to do some stretches, a 10km run, and have a healthy breakfast of fruit or wholegrain cereal, seems great the night before but perhaps after a few too many sherbets, athletic dance moves (if permitted) and a later than usual bedtime, a sleep-in, a technicolour yawn, slow crawl to the lounge and Uber Eats at about 1pm may be more realistic.

It seems to me that if you want to make changes in your life, then why wait ‘til 1 Jan? Does it mean that if you haven’t decided any changes, you have now missed the boat and have to wait till next New Year? 

I like to think that we can make changes whenever we like and of course, we can and we often do.

“From Monday, I am going to start my diet!”

“This year I am doing dry July!”

“I’ll join the gym next week!”

“Starting next month, I am going to spend less time in front of a screen!”

“This year I am going to learn a new language!”

“This year I am going to stick to my budget!”

So laudable, but why are these things always happening in the future? Why are we doing them anyway? To be healthier, wealthier, fitter, smarter, live longer … to be happier?

I think that’s it really – we often seem to equate being healthy, wealthy, and wise with being happy. And we then spend so much of our lives in the pursuit of happiness. 

Craig the staffy looking around at Hyde Park in North Perth.

We work, exercise, socialise, volunteer, shop, play, drink, cook, eat, sleep, love, study, write, paint, knit, pat animals … all in the pursuit of some form of happiness. It can be exhausting and also leaves a lot open to chance.

When we perform all of these activities, we expect an outcome of some sort … money, better muscles, new clothes, winning the game, mastering Hindi, feeling rested, being loved back, getting smarter. So we rely on external factors for our happiness. 

Is it the sport we like to play or the winning? Is it the work we like or the pay packet? Is it being loved back that makes us happy or is it loving others?

Little blonde girl lovingly helping her dad strap her grandmother's sore ankle.

I have been pondering this of late. Am I spending all my time trying to be happy rather than just being happy? Am I relying on these in-the-future changes and outside influences to determine whether I will be happy or not?

Guillaume Apollinaire, an early 20th-century French poet, who incidentally died during the Spanish flu pandemic, said:

“Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

I definitely agree with this, but it’s easier said than done – after all, I don’t think it is as simple as stopping to smell the roses (what if they have no scent or a bee stings you on the nose?).

Indian meal being prepared on a stove-top.

It is more about being happy in the action rather than the result. I am currently reading a book about karma which talks about just this. The author, Sadhguru, talks about changing the way we see our lives:

“If you saw your life as an expression of your happiness, rather than as a pursuit of it … you would effortlessly immerse yourself in whatever you are doing, without any expectation, for the pure joy of the activity.”

Sounds good to me … I will start next week … Nah, just kidding … actually, I’m starting right now while writing this blog post …

About the Author

Engel Prendergast, Mental Health Consultant, Mental Strides

Engel Prendergast is a Mental Health Consultant, working with organisations and groups to build a culture that supports good mental health.

Engel is an accredited Mental Health First Aid and safeTALK Instructor, and Lifeline Crisis Supporter and Mentor. She holds a Bachelor of Science (Health Promotion), Diploma of Counselling, and a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.

With natural compassion, a determination to help others and extensive experience in training and facilitation, Engel provides an environment that fosters learning and ownership.

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