Perspectives

The Problem With Men Chasing Happiness

27 Jan, 2021
And 4 ways to successfully experience more happiness in your life.

Many men have a strong desire for happiness. They hold it out like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow — constantly chasing. There are numerous talks and even an entire curriculum at Harvard all devoted to the attainment of happiness.

The problem for us is that our idea of happiness is an illusion — we’ve misunderstood it entirely. We think of it as a state of freedom and simplicity in our lives we can earn (enough money, enough free time, when the kids graduate, when we retire, etc.) – when in reality, happiness is actually a maturity function. And because it’s a maturity function, we can have more of it right away – no need to wait.

The irony, of course, is that when we get stuck in this mindset of striving towards freedom and simplicity, we cannot actually be or experience happiness at all. It truly does live at the end of a rainbow.

Here are some tips to experience more happiness in your life.

1. Don’t make happiness the goal

The student says to the Rabbi “but what about happiness?” and the Rabbi says “happiness, forget about it, you gotta be happy without it.”

Being goal orientated about happiness actually makes experiencing happiness impossible. We literally cannot experience happiness when it is our goal. Achieving goals requires focus and control. When we treat happiness as a goal, we narrow our focus and try to control our environment in order to get there, but happiness and control do not go together. Unfortunately for most men, happiness comes about when we lose control, and surrender to life exactly as it is, and this doesn’t come naturally to many of us. The core practice of surrendering to life is a muscle that has to be worked.

Try this: If happiness is your goal, replace it for the rest of today with presence. So instead of having a goal that is future-oriented (happiness, always “out there”), become more present to what you choose to put your attention on. Said differently, have a say in what you focus on, instead of being the victim of your brain.

It may sound ironic, but many of us use the goal of happiness to keep ourselves from the fear of facing the mundanity of our choices. Become more aware of what you choose.

2. Happiness increases where ego decreases.

For many of us, there’s a lot of ego tied up in chasing happiness. We’re often chasing it in the first place because we’re in a little bit of denial about our own failure to meet the cutting edge of our lives. We feel like something is missing, there’s still a box to check, a thing to conquer and sometimes we fall into a loop of inner criticism, perfectionism and victim mindset. We blame our partner, kids, and work for our unhappiness. This is not going to make us happy.

What will (start to) make us happy begins with acceptance, which is the ego’s way of saying, “I surrender.” As Deepak Chopra says “I oppose nothing.” Try walking through your world for a day and noticing how often you resist, criticize or oppose what you encounter. Then, try walking through the world for a day (or an hour) simply saying, “I accept” or “I am grateful” for whatever you find. It may hurt a bit at first, but stick with it. Let me know what you experience.

3. Don’t treat it like a mathematical sum

I see so many men continually fall into the trap of setting conditions for what must be true in order for them to be happy. But if we create conditions around happiness, we will never be happy. Shouldn’t we make this idea of happiness pay a little bit of rent for the enslavement it engenders over our psychic lives? When will enough be enough?

Anytime we’re strategizing or thinking mechanically about the conditions that are required for us to be happy, we are ironically pushing happiness further and further away. As long as we are removed from happiness, we’ll never have happiness. It’s kind of like love — we’ll never attract the one, until we have animated a certain sense of being OK without it. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but being OK with discomfort is the first step to being comfortable – and happy.

4. Chase participating, meaning and belonging instead.

While we may be right that happiness is a truly valuable state of mind, devoting our every action to its attainment gets us off the track of achieving things whose byproduct is often quite-rightly, you guessed it, happiness. Some of these worthy things include belonging, meaning, a sense of participation and mutuality with life. It is often from these very human (and occasionally, very vulnerable) states of mind from which the experience of happiness might spring.

The greatest hack is not to chase happiness, but to simply participate in what is meaningful and generates belonging, and listen for what comes back. So much of this is simply becoming aware and complicit in our inherent humanness, and all the messy needs such inherence denotes.