HAPPINESS – How To Find It (And How Not To Find It)

Children running into the sunset holding hands

Many view the pursuit of happiness to be synonymous with the pursuit of pleasure and wealth.

We have all heard Howard Hughes-esque stories of rich successful people who had everything that they wanted except happiness.

Research suggests that wealth is indeed important – to a certain degree. To constantly be worried about whether you are going to be able to afford to feed your children or pay your rent is certainly not a path to happiness. But what the research found is that once you have enough money to alleviate the basic pressures of life, adding any more on top of that will not lead to happiness.

Equally a pursuit of pleasure, as epitomised by Aleister Crowley’s ‘do what thou wilst’, does not lead to happiness.

John Stuart Mill, the famous utilitarian philosopher who argued for a pure pursuit of happiness nearing the end of his life said this:

A Photo of John Stuart Mill
I never, indeed, wavered in the conviction that happiness is the test of all rules of conduct, and the end of life. But I now thought that this end was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.

In other words, the pursuit of happiness as a direct aim (how can I be happy?) does not produce happiness. But rather happiness is found by pursuing something outside of ourselves i.e. the happiness of others, the betterment of mankind etc.

The economist John Kay calls this the principle of Obliquity – the idea that complex goals are best achieved by indirect approaches.

Equally, Jesus also knew the truth of this when he said “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it” (Luke 17:33)

We can see that the true pursuit of happiness is a life spent on behalf of others. Not a life dedicated to pursuing what makes us feel good, or the pursuit of material goods.

May we learn the true meaning of happiness, may we put aside the pursuits of pleasure and wealth, and may we spend our lives on behalf of those in need.

What steps can you take to spend your life on behalf of others today? Leave a comment with one step you are going to take in the comments below.

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