Happiness, do we attain or discover it?
“True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose” – Helen Keller
The quote above, though deep in its perspective, raises a question; is happiness something innate or attained? In fact, does any of the emotions we experience already exist within us before the first time we experience it? I suppose it is similar in question as whether the chicken or the egg came first; we can’t really know. However, clear is that the emotion is experienced within us, but can be triggered by external factors as well as experiences we recall through memories. It can also appear spontaneously without any apparent trigger at all. It is the quality and the sustainability of the happiness that makes the difference between the triggered and spontaneous ones. The triggered happiness lasts as long as the trigger lasts, but the spontaneous happiness can last a lifetime.
Often we seek out triggered happiness as a coping mechanism. These triggers can be through intoxication, materialistic pursuits, relationships, status, power, etc. The commonality here is that, once the happiness runs out, we need to trigger it again with another “trip”. This is where we end up chasing happiness.
The alternative is to, through mindful practice, release the notion that happiness is an experience triggered by something. Happiness like other emotions can emerge simply by being content. However, it does take faith to pursue this path to happiness and if you don’t believe that this path is viable, you will not get there. For most that strike up on this pursuit does so after realising that money, power, or similar does not provided that happiness that one is after; it becomes a last resort of sorts.
Happiness, like other emotions, is something one must experience and come upon for oneself. So there is no judgement as to whatever is anyone’s pursuit of happiness, and there is no point in trying to persuade anyone convinced they know their happiness of another path, they have to experience that for themselves.
In my experience, when we accept our experiences and find contentment and gratitude in anything, we can experience unconditional happiness. We might be in the most dire of situations, but, as Viktor Frenkl described it so beautifully in “Man’s Search for Meaning”, if we stay with our hope we can endure tremendous hardship. Within that hope we can find the acceptance, contentment and gratitude. You mightn’t be as happy as you have previously experienced, but happiness is not a comparative experience, either you are aware of it and experiencing it, or you are not. The more challenging your experience, the more difficult it is to hold that happiness in your awareness, but it is there, always, for you to experience. It is within you, not externally from you.