Happiness is only an abstraction, a far-fetched thought that is often elusive and evasive; it is difficult not only to define but also to understand. To further the complication, happiness often creates certain misleading myths.
The myth: the happiness sources
It is always a myth that abundant wealth, good health, and satisfying relationships—what most people crave and pursue in their lives—will bring them happiness. Abundant wealth, good health, and satisfying relationships are only the byproducts of happiness; they do not cause or bring true and lasting happiness in real life.
To illustrate, many lottery winners attest to their experiences of temporary ecstatic happiness, and nearly all winners confess that their winning has ultimately made them miserable and unhappy for various reasons. Maybe once the initial stimulus of sudden wealth and the drastic changes of lifestyle have worn off, they ultimately return to their original baseline level of happiness or unhappiness. Or, maybe, according to some experts, having too much pleasure—what is known as “eustress”—could also cause stress, just as lacking in pleasure might be stressful to the many have-nots.
The myth: the happiness effort
It is also a myth that happiness is something that can be pursued with willpower and effort. The Bible rightly says that pursuing happiness is just “like chasing the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11)
Effort does not necessarily bring happiness; it only creates the illusion of an environment that is conducive to temporary happiness. To illustrate, one may work diligently in one’s career to excel and to get to the top of the profession only to find that one has a terminal illness, or has incurred a debilitating accident. For example, Steve Job, the co-founder of Apple computers, had his life cut short by pancreatic cancer at the height of his successful business career.
Pursuing happiness may be only a fantasy fueled by temporary moments of happiness, because aging, illnesses, misfortunes, and ultimately death plague all alike; in other words, impermanence cuts short all human efforts and endeavors to bring happiness. We are all aware of the fact that impermanence is an ultimate leveler of everybody and everything, but many of us still choose to delude ourselves into thinking otherwise. Denial only fosters the myth that if there is a will there must be a way to attaining happiness, and that all it requires is the human effort to make any dream come true.
Copyright© by Stephen Lau