The Pursuit Of Happiness
Whom among us has not pursued the oftentimes misleading concept of happiness?What exactly is happiness? Firstly, happiness is subjective. This very fact contributes to its seemingly elusive nature. What makes you happy could be the complete opposite for someone else and vice versa. Essentially, there is no metric for this commonly desired outcome. If there is no measure for happiness, then we could view it as a concept, perhaps even a construct of the human mind intrinsic in the motivation to perform certain actions.
Happiness is often viewed as a destination rather than an emotion. In reality, there is no place or action performed that can get you “there”. It is more of a response than a static state of being. Its ephemeral nature is what makes the pursuit of it so fascinating. We are hardwired to seek it despite knowing that its stay is far from indefinite.
If you think about, say, neanderthals and their idea of happiness, what would that look like? Purely guessing, we could determine relatively accurately what it would entail. It might involve feeling full and/or safe, many things that modern humans can relate to. The main difference being in that we have drifted far from these fundamental comforts and branched out into the abyss of desires that could never fulfill the core of what human beings are hardwired for.
Biochemically Seeking Happiness
The nature of balance is demonstrated by your body’s perpetual need for homeostasis. The mind works very much the same way. What goes up must come down. Anyone in a long term relationship can attest to their success hinging on the absence of extreme highs and lows.
Neuroscience studies show that neurotransmitters that make up the happiness model are dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphin, and norepinephrine with some pointing to the adrenal and pituitary glands. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of the science, these articles will be excellent resources. They are divided into five sub-groups which include genetic, brain and neurotransmitters, endocrinology and hormones, physical health, morphology and physical attractiveness. The genetic factors at play can be endless.
Examining the nature vs nurture question can be an important one. Of course they play their individual roles, as one cannot seem to stand without the other in human beings. Here, we won’t dive too deep into this subject. We know that whether it’s 50/50 or 80/20, everyone will have a different percentage of one over the other.
Can the Chase do more Harm than Good?
Whether you’re chasing the artificial high of a substance or the rush of happiness from pursuits, all roads inevitably lead to dissatisfaction. The inherent harm that ensues from looking for something that gives you immediate gratification is unavoidable.
When you rephrase the question from “What makes you happy?” to “What makes life worth living?”, it can induce strikingly different results. You learn that it is rarely about the concept of “happiness” but more about the meaning you derived by the accomplishment and sometimes just in the journey itself. In order to sustain the feeling of peace and content you draw small amounts of joy over an extended period of time. It is liken to doing something consistently every day rather than spending an entire day slaving away at something
Whatever big thing happens, it is always short lived. How many times have you achieved some goal, anticipating the great celebration, only to be disappointed in it’s relatively quick existence and subsequent departure. An example is childbirth. You spend 9 months pregnant, hormones exploding, people fawning, excitement tangible. Then when you have the baby, there is a period of elation and busy-ness, and then consequently, it ends. For many, that is not a problem, but for some, it spirals into postpartum depression.
The Misguided Happiness From Using Substances
Often, when you seek happiness, it is selfish, you are seeking it for yourself. Isn’t it interesting that the most happiness one can attain in life, attested by many who “have it all”, is from giving to others. So the very idea of looking for it for yourself is a surefire way to have it elude you.
Substances and alcohol interact with the biochemical reactions in our bodies when they are used. It boosts your mood, giving you the illusion of experiencing happiness to a certain extent. These outcomes don’t and can’t last. Such a boost requires more and more of those same substances (due to tolerance), which in the long term, not only harm you physically and mentally, but also take you further and further away from the intended high of happiness.
It is in this neverending search that people lose their way. It demonstrates an innate need to seek something outside of yourself that can make you happy, even if it means self harm or hurting others.
We’ve often heard from those dealing with substance use disorders that when they partake in these actions, they feel “normal”. Is feeling “normal” a desperate attempt to find happiness?
A topic fraught with subjectivity and a natural openness to interpretation can be a challenge to quantify. What we do know is that pursuing happiness through external sources, including substances, will never get you there.
Watch this video created by Geoff Thompson, program director of Sunshine Coast Health Centre, discussing Eudaimonic Happiness.