Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Is the Purpose of Life the Pursuit of Happiness?

Pursuit of happiness quote from the book on a desert background.

“The purpose of our existence is to seek happiness.”

The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.

Ahh…the old “pursuit of happiness” thing!

One thing I noticed here and in other works is that they never say that the purpose is to BE happy but to SEEK happiness. If I’m unhappy that doesn’t mean I’ve failed to fulfill my purpose in life, it merely means I need to keep working.

Where words came from is fascinating to me, so the first thing I did was look up the word “happy.” Word Origin of Happy says the word happy originally meant “lucky” or “wise.” How clever is that? What if I spent my life looking for luck and wisdom? Seems like a good use of time, a decent existence, doesn’t it?

I think that’s exactly what I do, and why I’m a generally happy person. Some may disagree with that statement. They may say, “Michelle, you complain a lot and you tend to throw temper tantrums and get unreasonably angry about silly things. You’re not happy.” But I beg to differ. Ask those that live with me or are around me often. I’ll admit that I am an emotional creature. I wear my heart out on my sleeve and tend to get it bruised up, but I also tend to forgive and forget…mostly.

Happiness has eluded me in the past, and recently it’s felt like an annoying little butterfly just out of my reach. I stalk it in the shadows, pounce down on it, pull my hands up thinking I’ve caught it, only to find…nothing. But I keep looking. I open another book, find another friend, or start another conversation. I’m never disappointed for long. I thank my squirrel brain for that.

What kind of a person is it nicer to be around? What kind of a person is more likely to do something nice for others, work hard at something, and share with the world around them? A happy person or an unhappy person?

I think it’s the happy person, the lucky and wise person. That’s why it makes sense to me to make the pursuit of happiness my life’s goal. So far, I feel like I’m doing nice job of it.

It may look like I have the world from your perspective, but I don’t have everything I want. No one does. Things have not always gone the way I wanted them to. I’ve been sorely disappointed and let down. I’ve made terrible mistakes that have cost me some relationships as well as money and some freedom. The pursuit of happiness, the seeking of that which may make you happy, isn’t about getting what you want, or what you think you want, but accepting what is.

And happiness doesn’t always mean pleasure seeking. Things that are pleasurable don’t always lead to happiness. Wisdom is learning to navigate through those traps. It may bring me great pleasure to spend all my money on books, but I’ll be unhappy when my husband can’t pay the mortgage. It may bring me great pleasure to punch that guy right in the nose, but I’ll be unhappy when I’m in jail for assault.

No, BEING happy isn’t the goal. It can’t be. But SEEKING happiness? That’s attainable!


You can find The Art of Happiness at Thriftbooks. If you read it, let me know what you think!

I posted about this book when I started reading it back in December, New Read: The Art of Happiness

If you’re interested in my monthly reading newsletter, where I describe all my juicy immediate afterthoughts of the books I read, along with various other hilarious tidbits, subscribe by signing up for it on my Autobibliography page!

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2 Comments

  1. As a Buddhist, I would think the Dalai Lama would say the purpose of life is to find an end to suffering. Maybe happiness is the other side of the same coin. No one would say I’m a happy person. I’m usually pretty scowly, it’s my nature, but I’m definitely content.

    • Michelle Huelle

      Sort of. I’d say that life simply is suffering and the accpetance of it is what leads to the byproduct happiness.
      This book is a bit of a let down. It isn’t BY the Dalai Lama, it’s another guy interpretting his experience with him. I think his purpose was to make some of Buddhism accessible to those not interested in the spiritual aspects.

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