How do we achieve a true state of happiness? Are we ever happy? Most people’s definition of happiness is being successful, so then how do we define success?
We spend our lives trying to be the perfect version of ourselves, or “reaching our full potential.” However, all of us know that this is not theoretically possible as supported by the cliche phrase: “no one is perfect.” Then, why do we believe that continuing to chase an impossible abstract concept will give us a sense of happiness?
Actually, we’re not trying to be the perfect version of ourselves, we’re trying to be better, more accomplished, and more recognized than the person next to us and then the person next to them. Our perception of the equation of happiness is “working harder will get me more success which will make me happier”. Well, guess what? Our standard of the ‘best’ is constantly evolving because everyone is on the same race where the finish line keeps getting pushed back and the racetrack becomes steeper. We’ll never be able to achieve happiness this way. Furthermore, our human psychology is not hardwired for happiness, but for survival and validation, which is why we rarely feel genuinely happy.
American author and speaker, Shawn Achor, studied the measurement of happiness in Harvard students. People wondered what he could accomplish by studying happiness around Harvard’s campus; these are some of the smartest students in the world, why wouldn’t they be happy? Despite popular opinion, the students forget about the thrill, privilege and prestige attained by studying at one of the world’s greatest institutions, and focused more on the competition and workload. From being the “top” of their high school peers, now at Harvard, they are again competing and racing to be the top of their university. Now, they need better grades, a better job, better extracurriculars, and the endless cycle of dissatisfaction inevitably continues. The assumption that Harvard students are happy simply because they study at Harvard means that “our external world predicts our feelings of happiness”, while in reality, achieving happiness comes from the way we perceive our surroundings.
How do we change the lens of reality? We flip our equation of success: look for happiness and positivity to bring us success. We work more efficiently when we have a positive growth mindset rather than a negative, stressed or neutral one. You won’t be productive if you’re constantly frustrated, annoyed and stressed at your progress, so finding our positivity will automatically bring us our desire to “work harder.” But, positivity can only be achieved when we get used to letting go of societal expectations and listening to our own mind. Are you in this line of work because you genuinely love it, or because you think it’s necessary? Are you taking this class because you’re interested in it or because the majority of students are signing up? Do what makes you happy now, in the present, not what you believe will get you happiness in the future, because as we just concluded, that’s almost impossible. Of course, there are infinite factors that could influence one’s happiness, but the first step is believing and living for yourself. If you are smiling inside while working and looking forward to doing the same tomorrow, then you have found happiness and are on your way to success.