The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that all humans have “unalienable rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Therein lies one of humanity’s greatest flaws: the notion of pursuing happiness. Why the pursuit of happiness and not simply happiness? It is a popular belief amongst humans that happiness is hard to come by. Remember that: a belief. Not a fact. Let’s break this down, shall we?
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines happiness as “ 1. good fortune, prosperity; 2a. a state of wellbeing and contentment, 2b. a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” In truth, none of these definitions is accurate because happiness is a completely subjective experience. The way in which one person experiences this emotion is vastly different from the next. However, there is one aspect of happiness that rings true across the board: it’s fleeting. In extreme cases, it can last for days, but most of the time it’s only for moments, seconds even. When this happens we blame change of circumstance, change of environment, change of medication, routine, people…you name it. But those things are separate, external.
As one Zen story goes: There were two monks out for a morning stroll. One monk saw a flag moving. The other argued, convinced it was the wind that was moving. Just then, the Zen patriarch walked by and said “Neither the wind nor the flag is moving. Only the mind.” So what does this mean for us? It means that the mind is fickle, and thus so is happiness. For when we tirelessly pursue happiness, we are consistently evoking its opposite, which is anger, sadness, and destruction. Happiness, like all emotions, is dualistic. Anytime you experience a moment of elation, there is the undercurrent of despair. Most, if not every human being has experienced that sense of anxiety that accompanies great success and joy—that whisper that begs this feeling not to leave us. And yet, we know it must.
We live in an age where this idea of the “pursuit of happiness” (or “feeling good”) has become the ultimate event. We have hundreds of thousands of products, services, and entertainment designed to evoke this happiness-response. And the faster they can make us happy, the better. It is the notion of instant gratification. It’s like a drug. We take it. It wears off. We take it again. We begin to build immunity to it. We want more, always more. How does the cycle end? With the opposite. With destruction and despair. With emptiness. This is the case because we believe that happiness is scarce. We believe it’s momentary. That is the implication of the word happiness; wonderful, but only for a moment.
I submit that instead of pursuing happiness, we pursue Bliss. In the sense that I mean it, Bliss has no opposite. It transcends dualistic nature. It comes from a deep sense of peace and equanimity. It is neither anxious happiness nor dull contentment. You will spend your whole life chasing one happiness after another. But Bliss is eternal. To know Bliss is to know God, Buddha, Tao. To know god is to know yourself. To know yourself is to be completely, utterly, indescribably present. You will only find your bliss within yourself. And when you do, you will know. It may not stick immediately, but sometimes a glimpse of it can radically alter the course of one’s life.
For a more in depth look at what it means to find and follow your bliss, take a look at Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. Campbell was the one who coined the phrase “Follow your Bliss.”
Be Here Now. Abandon the fruitless pursuit of happiness. Find your Bliss. Let it cradle and envelop you.
By Terence Stone
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.