Our Happiness Obsession

The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language defines the word “happy” as “the feeling or showing of contentment and pleasure.” People are in love with the idea of being happy.  And conversely, we’re also obsessed with the idea of feeling sorrow. Especially within western countries, the life goal of many is “to be happy.”

There are aisles upon aisles of bookshelves across the world with the genre labeled “self-help” across them with titles like “The Happiness Project” and “101 Ways to Ensure Happiness,” all designed to make us feel a way that we’re told to feel. Media outlets will consistently publish studies that tell us that being happy will result in a longer life or that we’ll become more successful because of it.  When it’s advertised in a manner that implies that happiness is the answer to every problem, why would anyone have a problem with it?

But what happiness consists of can be elusive. It can be Aristotle defined happiness, to consist of living a life of virtue and balance, much different than the popular concept that people often strive for today.  But there is no concrete definition or measurement (there are at least 15 different academic definitions for “happiness”); what may make one person happy may not be fitting into what another may think of happiness. Regardless of the vagueness of this idea, many are obsessed with achieving it in our lifetime.

This obsession leads to striving and the notion of the idea that feeling anything that could be interfering with happiness is bad.

People will look to constantly improve their current situations, focusing more on the pleasure component of happiness rather than that of contentment, and that’s where the problem starts. A lot of this endless striving is due to people not being content with what they’ve been given. We’re all guilty at some point or another for lamenting over trivial issues in our lives — our disappointment with our physical features, or a lack of appropriate funds to accomplish things that would be nice to do. Contentment, unfortunately, is lost within the pursuit of “happiness;” appreciation for the things or people for which we have been given or introduced to should not be forgotten.

Fulfilling pleasure is not a bad thing to want, but it shouldn’t be our sole motivation, which for some, whether they realize it or not, it is.  We aspire to afford to do or obtain things that we currently may not be able to. We go to university to get jobs that will both provide for our necessities and pleasure; “work hard to play harder,” as some might say.  Especially within American culture, we are expected to not only be happy, but also strive to improve the amount of happiness that we feel — anything opposite is detrimental.

Happiness itself is not what has become overrated, but the idea that if we happen to be anything but, it’s not a good thing. Everyone is entitled to feeling happy, but if you happen not to be, it shouldn’t be a sign that everything is going downhill. It is healthy, even, to be sorrowful or disappointed or confused. Because while we are entitled to being happy, it isn’t something that is tangible or guaranteed, nor is it easy; sometimes doing what is right or necessary does not mean that happiness will come with it. In some instances, it will be entirely the opposite. We must also ask ourselves whether we are in fact looking for happiness, or looking to have an optimistic outlook on life, both which are incorrectly interpreted to be nonexistent without the other.

It is ultimately  up to our individual daily decisions whether or not our “happiness” is necessary to our current situations,worth the opportunity cost, and whether our ambition is of self-interest or selfishness.

Nashra Anwer is a second year literary journalism major and can be contacted at nanwer@uci.edu.