Apparently most of us have a default level of happiness. No mater what our station is in life, we are all slightly dissatisfied. Slightly. Life is just never quite good enough, even when it really is.
This default happiness level readjusts depending on your circumstances. Even if something great happens to you, like winning the lottery, you soon get over it and return to that base level of slight dissatisfaction.
Luckily this works in reverse too.
If you have a divorce, for example, or end up in accident that leaves you paralysed – studies have shown that although your life on paper becomes worse, you readjust. Shit feels awful for a while, but then get use to this new normal. You accept it – sort of – and move back to your default level of happiness.
“I can’t use my legs anymore but I can still binge watch NETFLIX every evening like I used to!” Or, “I don’t have a smoking hot wife anymore but, you know, there are other less attractive fish in the sea. Ones that won’t steal my stuff. I’ll settle for one of those!”
That’s the spirit!
The reason for this is simple: survival.
It’s not the best strategy to be content with life. Otherwise we’d stop chasing after that next promotion or that bigger house. We’d stop securing a safer existence for ourselves and our family – even if we already live on a luxury yacht!
It’s for this reason that our egos keep tricking us. It tells us, if you get that next promotion, or have sex with that smoking hot chick, or save enough money for that fast car, then you’ll be happy. Then you’ll achieve the kind of bliss that everyone else on Instagram clearly has.
And so you go after those things like your life depends on it.
But what happens when you actually get those things? When your hopes are realised? Of course you’re happy for a time. That’s for the memory bank to remind you that more is better. But then what? That’s right, you get used to it! You get used to your new sports car. You get over the fact that you had amazing sex with that hot chick. You get used to the fact that your new house has 8 bedrooms, 2 tennis courts and an infinity pool.
Once you do, you’ll find yourself back in that familiar default setting of life is ok-ish. Not bad, but it could be better. “I mean, It’s not like I have the fastest sports car in the market right? And if I’m honest, she was only an 8 out of 10. Plus, I’d quite like a bigger fucking boat…”
The obvious problem, for those canny enough to recognise this ego trick, is that it’s never enough. Happiness – the lasting kind at least – can’t be found through the pursuit of happiness. It’s like looking for gold at the end of the rainbow. You’ll never find it. There is no mountain high enough, no river wide enough, no luxury yacht big enough.
The other, less obvious problem, for those canny enough to see the bigger trap here, is your default setting has been adjusted to this easier level of existence. And this, I’m afraid to say, makes you weaker. It makes you weaker because your default level of happiness is set against this higher standard of living. As a result, smaller things start to bother you a lot more. You say, “Unless that waiter brings me the finest quality champagne, I’m gonna lose my shit!” Suddenly it becomes much harder to maintain that baseline of moderate happiness (or unhappiness as the case may be).
In gaining the world you start to hate it.
As a pilot, I have the added perk of being able to travel in business class at a fraction of the price that most people pay provided, there are spare seats going on a given flight. Is it a great thing? I enjoy business class, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think about it much anymore. That’s because I’m used to it. Instead I find myself thinking how great first class looks. I think, “If only my company would let me fly in first. Of course business class isn’t bad, but, you know, it could be better.”
There I am, back to that default setting. (Spoilt brat, I know…)
But here’s the real kicker. When business is full and the only seats going are in economy, well, then woe is fucking me! (Please don’t fuck me woe, not again!) What is normal and ok-ish for the vast majority of people has – because of my privilege – become a kind of hell. My privilege has made me weaker. It’s like that saying, once you go… (You know what? I’m not going to finish that sentence.)
This is the paradox that comes from making life easier for ourselves, we actually make it harder. Similarly by chasing happiness, we end up finding less of it.
Now I’m going to ask you a question. I use this example only because it makes sense to me personally. Here it is: Why did you have kids? Why do you want to have kids?
To make you happy?
Sorry, that one slipped out. But seriously, if your reason is/was to make you happy, you need to sit down and have a rethink.
Kids make everything harder. Everything.
There’s a lot of research that suggests couples end up unhappier after having kids. I can vouch for that. Having kids was a rude awakening. It was a shock to my admittedly delicate system. And it didn’t make me happier having them. At least not initially. (There’s a fat dose of honesty for you.)
Changing nappies 8 times a day, being pissed on, rocking them for a goddam hour at 4 am, only for them to wake up the moment you place them in their cots…! Finding any which way to settle the little bastards. (I love them really.)
If you haven’t, at some point as a new parent, felt an overwhelming urge to throw your baby out of the window, well, you’re not being honest.
That’s why, if you want to have kids, you have to really really want them. You also have to be very clear about why you’re having children.
Because if your why is in the pursuit of happiness, they will make you miserable – they will drive you insane. Then you might actually throw them out the window. Of course, that would be bad. Very very bad. (I have to keep telling myself that.)
So why would you have kids then?
Well, the same reason you might decide to climb Everest or chose any challenging endeavour. For a sense of fulfilment, to help the world by raising a more virtuous, responsible and courageous generation, to help you grow as an individual…
You have children because it gives your life more meaning. You do it for love, as cliche as that sounds. You don’t do it for your happiness. Don’t do anything for your happiness. Fuck your happiness. I mean it. Ok, no I don’t. What I mean is fuck looking for your happiness. The only thing that’s guaranteed in this life is pain. Happiness is never guaranteed. Never. You should write that on a billboard and hang it on your living room wall.
My first child forced me to reconcile with some dark inner demons. The moment I was completely honest with myself and realised that his wellbeing depended on me sorting my own shit, well everything changed. Seriously. Everything. I sought therapy for his benefit. I did it for his happiness, and in the process ended up finding my own.
Right there is the trick. What’s your why? That’s always a great question to ask yourself. If your why is happiness you can expect unhappiness. If your why is to serve something bigger than yourself, well, then you’re actually on to something. Because the real pursuit of happiness is found in the pursuit of meaning through pain.
If you pursue meaning through pain, you’ll find the small stuff stops pissing you off. You’ll also find the everyday stuff that everyone takes for granted becomes a kind of paradise.
Suddenly you’ll look down after a long day in which your kids pressed every single button – a day in which your nerves were completely shredded. Despite that, you kept them alive. Not only that, you helped them grow. You also realise that you didn’t completely lose your shit this time. You notice that you also grew as person. You realise that all that pain you suffered through gave you something no amount of money ever can. And as you look down at your kids, who are fast asleep, in a seemingly mundane moment, you suddenly feel something akin to happiness, but it’s not. It’s something greater than that.
What you’ve found is peace.
You can find AP2’s personal blog here at: https://clear-air-turbulence.com
61 thoughts on “The Pursuit Of Unhappiness”
Another great piece AP. It’s funny as I look at my “kids” now (both 20 somethings) and consider your questions (I know they were somewhat rhetorical) a part of it was legacy and yes fulfillment. One of the best things about getting older (currently sitting at 51) is I have enough life experience (or pain in your vernacular, lol) to be very comfortable with all things my life. Maybe its the start of wisdom I dont know but I spend much less time now worrying about things I cant control. It really is the first time I can remember since being a child where I have real peace.
Again great post, Cheers
That’s wonderful to hear Karac! Thank you for your kind words. I think not caring about stuff that doesn’t matter actually helps one care more about the stuff they should. Not giving a fuck just means you know what you should give a fuck about. I believe that has everything to do with wisdom/maturity. Wishing you well 🙏
First, I must applaud you on such a wonderful post. What’s so wonderful? The brutal honesty that many of us choose not to disclose. Your writing is always impeccable, and that adds to the charm of your thoughts and revelations. Happiness is such an icky word. It seems like it should be perfumed and draped in jewels, but it’s just another ordinary word like hamburger. Though hamburgers are usually tasty and can be ordered with a side of fries.
Happiness, unfortunately, is dry and tasteless, and we add to its miserable state by waiting for it to give us what we think we deserve. We don’t work towards happiness, but demand that it come to us. And as you’ve bluntly put it, there is no definition or level to it. It just keeps changing from this to that, and then that to this. The more miserable we are, the lower our expectations. And the more satisfied and high on life, the greater we expect from it.
Could be a consequence of settling for little when the resources are already scarce. And children! Aren’t they a breath of fresh air? (Eye rolling)
Raised one on my own and it’s purgatory. How many of us think that we’ll have one and they’ll change our whole lives. What a bunch of phooey! Have one not for yourself, they aren’t bon-bons. They may be an extension of you, but they’re separate individuals with minds, hearts, and fates of their own. Don’t dive in without any thought. You sure can’t exchange or return them. Yeah you’re stuck with them. (FOR LIFE!!)
And yes, the outcome of every situation and decision should be peace. That’s what’s going to hold you together.
Your post is superb. Evoked a lot of emotion. Thank you! 🙂
Thank you Terveen – I love hearing your thoughts. Raising a child on your own! OMG. I have so much sympathy. My feeling with children is they make everything harder which eventually makes everything better because it builds resilience – it forces you to think deeply about yourself and your own actions. It forces you to be a better person. But I do believe you have to be doing it for the right reasons or having children has the potential to weaken you as an individual. Similarly I think they can either strengthen a couple’s relationship or destroy it. Both need to be on the same page.
I enjoyed writing that one. Wishing you well 🙏
Indeed. It’s a risky proposition. Thank you. Wish you well too. 🙂
A lot of great points AP2. I think that happiness baseline thing is a really important point to learn, for one thing. And pointing out the illusion that having children will increase one’s happy feelings in the way that acquiring a desired possession might.
I also tend to think our misunderstandings about happiness have a lot to do with having little familiarity of happiness’ different forms and “levels,” with emphases on its least meaningful, most passing, and least genuine manifestations. As a cultural observer, it’s fascinating, for example, that the peace you mention at the end would be regarded as something distinct from happiness itself, rather than a greater and ultimately more desirable form of happiness than the examples you gave toward the beginning of the post.
Great piece, thank you for creating and sharing.
Thanks SeekerFive! Yes, I think that distinction between peace (lasting happiness) and the material superficial short form of happiness that most people chase is an important distinction to make. Wishing you well 🙏
Don’t do anything for your happiness. Fuck your happiness. I mean it. <- that part made me laugh! What an insightful piece. I had never thought of the "pursuit of happiness" in this light, and I see a lot of logic in what you're saying. I relate it to the idea of acting with meaning. Replacing small-talk with meaningful conversations. Filling your time with projects instead of TV shows. Ultimately, working on changing those two aspects (reducing small-talk and TV time recently) have made me feel "happier" but what I guess it really is that I feel more fulfilled. What even is happiness anyway? Thanks for a thought-provoking post!
I’m pleased my words made you laugh. 😂 What is happiness is a great question to ask. I like to differentiate between happiness (short term material kind) versus peace (long term fulfilment) for that reason. Chase peace not happiness- Sounds like that’s exactly what you are doing! Wishing you well 🙏
I enjoyed this post. I believe happiness is found in simplicity and gratitude. You said it very well!
Yes to gratitude and simplicity! Often we need to cut things out – not add more! Less is more. Great point. Thank you for sharing Tamara 🙏
You are welcome! 💕
I once got to travel in business class TWICE in one day going to New York. All because there were empty seats and I was flying with passes. The free meal and leg room was wonderful.
Yes business class is great. I need my leg room. 😂 Twice in one day! That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing Ang 🙏
This a great post!
Kids can be quite something! It’s so refreshing to hear that having a mini-you was the wake up call you needed! That you realised to do right by them, you must first do right by you, is powerful!
It’s always a pleasure reading from you, buddy!
Thanks Billy! Kids are hard work but I believe that’s what makes us better people. Done for the right reasons parenting is extremely rewarding. Done for the wrong the reasons however…
Take it easy buddy 🙏
Great post and I feel SO SORRY for you having to use cattle class!! It is all about perspective. I worked at an airport for so long that I have lost the desire to fly right now but the pandemic has affected my feelings also. I have had anxiety and depression my whole life and take medication. One very good psychologist made me list all the positive aspects of my life. My illness skews my perspective. Loved the title!
Perspective is everything! Now isn’t a great time to travel – all my layovers are consigned to hotel rooms. Endless covid testing/quarantine requirements, etc… Business class can only make up for so much 😂
I suffered from depression for years. It certainly skews ones perspective. It was having kids that forced some deep thinking – that made me ask for the help I needed.
Thank you for sharing – I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. Wishing you well Kerry. 🙏
Thank you! I once took a first class flight from Atlanta to Dublin on my husband’s many points. It was fun to start – fabulous menu and drinks. Then the two middle aged men across the aisle from me, laid their seats back and snored all the way to Ireland. I don’t think I had Bose headphones then…🎧
My mental illness is genetic – so many of my family have diagnoses that we would make an excellent case study. The Pandemic has put me off kilter but when I used to fly to Scotland from Texas regularly to look after my ageing parents in law, the sense of purpose helped my illness.
The pandemic has thrown me off kilter at times too. A sense of purpose certainly helps. I started blogging because I wasn’t flying much. It quickly became a hobby I now love – and helped to give me that purpose I was missing after being grounded for so long. Hopefully we’ll all be flying again in the near future. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Kerry. All the best 🙏
Nicely brought full circle.
Thank you L.K. I appreciate your comment. 🙏
Great post. I posted this about Happiness and the pursuit of it by Alan Watts
Hey Rochdalestu – thank you. I’ll check it out when I get the chance. Wishing you well 🙏
Great post AP2! Having kids is a shock to the system (having had 2 under 2) & the buttons they press at times! But as you said ‘you’ grow with them everyday, you provide for them & there is nothing like that love: oh how your heart bursts for your little creations.
Especially enjoyed this paragraph “if you pursue meaning through pain, you’ll find the small stuff stops pissing you off. You’ll also find the everyday stuff that everyone takes for granted becomes a kind of paradise”. Great post & thank you for sharing 🙏
Thanks Bernie – kids makes everything harder and I believe that makes everything better. It forces you to grow as an individual in a way few things can. And you’re right, there is no replicating that love. It really is a, I would throw myself in front of a bus without a seconds thought kind of love.
Wishing you well Bernie 🙏
I think we all have a happiness thermostat. We can overwhelm it with change but it always settles back in the end.
Some people ARE happy all the time. Their thermostat is set high. Pollyanna and Pangloss. That’s not such a good thing because they don’t have a clue how the rest of the world lives. All their efforts are based on unrealistic scenarios. If some of those efforts leave other people less than enthusiastic or fail outright, “Well golly gee willikers! I wonder what his problem is? Ah, well. Back to the good ole’ drawing board. 🙂 ”
I both envy and hate these people.
And others have a lower setting. That’s called dysthymia. In a stronger version, it is depression. If the depression is environmental, therapy can help by helping you deal better with the environment. If it is a matter of a bum thermostat, medication is a necessary ingredient. Happy thing happens, you rise up for a bit and then you settle down again. It is how people who have everything going for them can still be depressed. It isn’t a “bad attitude” it is a lowered thermostat.
I am one of those people. As I age it seems to be easing. I’ve settled for not having much, so small things mean more.
I am sure there are thermostats for anger and fear and lust and just about any other fundamental human emotion.
Caring for my young children did nothing but get my endorphins flow. Until they turned teenagers and I discovered the spiteful aliens living in my home, I was happy.
I like the way you put it, Fred. I think my thermostat runs low most of the time as well. I really identify with what you say about having less so small things mean more. What a statement! I agree with it wholeheartedly. I also feel like the older I get, the less I think I need the things I used to think I would need, like a big house, or such earthly pleasures. Now all I want is a container house in the middle of no where, with trees for a hammock, and peace. Anything else is a bonus haha
Mine probably runs a little lower than most too! I believe concentrating of less gives one greater depth and meaning in life. Try not to be and do everything, but give yourself completely to a few things. Thank you for sharing your thoughts ash. Wishing you well 🙏
“I both envy and hate these people.” – The eternal optimists 😂
I tend to think that less is more. As you get older you start to see that focusing on less gives more depth to your life. It adds meaning. Having too much “stuff” takes it away.
You’re right that everyone’s thermostat (I love how you put it) is set differently.
I love my children and wouldn’t give up them and what they have given me for the world, but it was a reality check. The first 100 days were brutal. I believe it’s precisely because they made everything harder, that eventually everything became better for me. They forced me to grow as a person. I still have the teenager years to look forward to of course!
Thanks Fred – I always appreciate hearing your thoughts. Wishing you well 🙏
“Life is pain and anyone who tells you different is selling something.”
This post was an incredible ride! Thank you for the thoughts. (Also, I just thought I’d mention, as a childless aunt of three, it is also entirely possible to have the desire to throw OTHER people’s kids out the window, which is also pretty bad.)
Your comment made me laugh. I often tell my wife, I don’t have patience for other people’s children – only my own (and that patience is itself tentative.) Life is most definitely pain. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. 🙏
An excellent read.
Loved every sentence.
Love your terminology ‘ default level of happiness’
Persuit for happiness is never ending state.
Real happiness is the day one realises that ‘ less is more ‘
Thank you my friend
Couldn’t agree most. Thank you friend. I always appreciate hearing your thoughts. Wishing you well 🙏
Life is all about acceptance…accepting the pains, the drawbacks….but accepting doesn’t cure the pain..maybe just reduces it….it is only who is experiencing the pain knows what he or she is going through…some express many don’t…Like you said about raising a child…
You have given a different perspective of life ..of being happy ..but it sure is a better way of looking at life .
Stay blessed 🙏🙏🌹
Acceptance changes our relationship to pain – to all things. I’m a big believer in radical acceptance. Thank you so much Jas Krish. Wishing you well. 🙏
Stay blessed 🙏😇
I so enjoyed this post! You made me laugh out loud and I had to stifle it as it’s 5 a.m. here in England and I don’t want to wake the household.
There’s so much truth in what you’ve said. I used to strive towards certain things that I thought would bring me happiness and contentment only to find an anti-climax experience when I gained those things (like passing maths exams – I still wasn’t that clever!). What I’ve learned is that it’s the day-to-day unexpected events that make life worthwhile – like the first time I saw an elephant hawk-moth caterpillar ( the wonder has never faded), and the time I came across a white heron at the river – and, of course, the lucky sightings of a kingfisher. That is real joy!
Living in the present with radical acceptance for what is. Do that and life changes completely. I decided to google what an elephant hawk-moth caterpillar looks like. Wow! Real joy is seeing what’s right in front of us. Thank you Lesley. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post 🙏
I’m glad you googled it. They’re amazing! We had a case in the uk where a family contacted the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to say that they’d found a baby snake. Of course, the RSPCA told them it was an elephant hawkmoth caterpillar. It was then released somewhere safe outdoors. They do look very impressive when they feel threatened. Apparently, they’re supposed to be quite common here in the uk, but I’ve only ever seen four in my whole lifetime, all spotted last summer. 😀
I kept hoping that by the time you got to the end of the rainbow, you would find your pot of gold, and you did! I quit reaching for the carrot once I realized that when I get within an inch of it, the damned thing moves another foot away. Love your honesty, humor, and willingness to bare your soul for the benefit of the rest of us. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that doing so brings you greater joy than anything In the material world ever could or will. Thanks for a great blog!
Thank you so much Julia – your comments mean a great deal. You’re not wrong! I use to hide within my shell but have found confidence from putting myself out there (although it still scares me!) Writing is a wonderful therapeutic outlet for me. I am constantly inspired/helped by everyone else who blogs and takes the time to leave such thoughtful comments. My wish is to return the favour. Wishing you the very best 🙏
If you see a new fan and follower of your blog, it’s most likely me (Voices). If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that maybe we’re birds of a feather. 😊
I think you are right about how privilege effects us. Seriously though, I laughed my backside off when I read parts of this! I think it’s true that a lot of people have kids because they think it will fulfill something in them. And you have to give that notion up entirely if you want to negotiate parenting without leaving your sanity in shambles. And you never know what parenting will bring to your doorstep, it could alter everything about life you know it in ways that leave you hunting for happiness.
I have no desire to sound sanctimonious, but I never actually had a desire to toss either kiddo out the window. I have had moments where I wished certain things were different and hadn’t landed on *my* doorsteps the way they did. And then I looked at whichever child inspired that feeling and remembered that they didn’t ask to be here. And that I love them, and they have both made me better. Slightly neurotic sometimes, completely sleep deprived on the regular, but usually I have become a better version of me because I have had to in the process of failing daily to be everything I need to take my best crack at parenting them. Have a great day! 🙂
I have more confidence now than I did during my early days as a father. I think my “intense urge” – was a result of my own insecurities. My feeling that I was inadequate/incapable as a father (as a person). Truthfully I haven’t felt “the urge” for a long time now – not at all with my second child. Saying that makes me proud. I think that’s personal growth.
You have a very healthy attitude towards your children. They didn’t ask to be here. We must love them unconditionally. I learnt that I had to learn to love myself in order to do that. I love mine so much now. They have given me everything. I stand a little taller everyday because of them.
I’m pleased my post gave you a good laugh. Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful comment. Have a great day too 🙂🙏
Parenting definitely can make a person feel insecure. Our youngest has multiple disabilities and I had to give up on the illusion that I was going to be able to do everything they both needed a long time ago. At this point, I know there will be conversations I will have to be humble in and silence myself as they grow older and I hear their perspective on all of those moments I was just doing the very best I could. I’m sure a buttload of humble pie is coming my way. I am glad you were able to stand taller a little bit every day because of your kids. Parenting isn’t easy, but I honestly don’t think I understood love nearly so well before becoming one. And I definitely liked your post! Wishing you the best 😊
I love your words – Thanks so much for sharing it! I got told once by a very wise man to “Rest In Peace”.., not after my death – right now in the present moments of my life. Im only young and don’t have kids but I learned to be present in life and reflect all the little small steps I do throughout my day/ week/month and realise my growth as person. Every person in my life and myself included would describe me as a happy person but not because I’m overly happy all the time, more so because I feel fulfilled and grateful at all times with life and experiencing it every day. I felt so much good energy reading your post and wanted to wish you a wonderful day. To reflect your very own behaviour and realise your “mistakes” takes so much strength and to put them out there even more. You can be so proud of yourself for inspiring so many souls out there. all the best!
I think acceptance is exactly that: a state of relaxation in and for the present moment. It sounds like you have a very mature attitude/outlook for your age. Gratitude is something we should all be practising as often as we can. A key component to genuine peace and happiness. Thank you for taking the time to read and leave such a heart felt and thoughtful comment. Your words have made my day. Wishing you all the best Lisa 😊🙏
im still not having kids.
You say one great thing right in the title “Pursuit of unhappiness”. It is pointless to “pursue” happiness (i.e. chase something that is slipping away, so you keep chasing and the object of pursuit keeps just a tiny little bit out of reach); however, thinking of this mind and language construct, it could be an interesting endeavour pursuing UNHAPPINESS. If it is anything like happiness, it will always be a tiny little bit out of reach 😉
Of course, while chasing it is a good idea to pause sometimes and have a good look around at everything but the “unhappiness”. Take a deep breath, count your blessings…. all of it while playing the game of chase with something that is escaping….
To quote Ivo Andric: “It’s weird how only a little bit is necessary for us to be happy, and even more strange: how often we miss that “little bit” ”
Čudno je, kako je malo potrebno da budemo sretni i jos čudnije, kako nam često baš to malo nedostaje.
I love that quote. Very well said. It really doesn’t (or shouldn’t) take very much to be happy. I often think life is harder on our ambitions than it is in reality for the majority of time. Learning to let go and live with radical acceptance for what is. It’s precisely when we stop chasing that we often find we were looking for. Thank you D. Mihalicek-van Lingen. I always appreciate hearing your thoughts. Wishing you well 🙏
This is so deep and true. I have a 6 year old and I noticed that when I’m seeking happiness, I become miserable. Whereas, when I’m seeking purpose and meaning, I feel at peace. Thank you for the reminder.
I’ve gotta say my friend, this is an incredibly well formed piece of writing. There’s some stream of consciousness here, a lot of relatability there, deep emotion poured out in words, and a lot of encouragement to examine our own whys. There’s also some encouragement hidden between in the lines, not to be annoying and make us readers do work, but because finding it helps us to think intelligently as we read.
Seeking to be content with being content. This is something I’ve worked at over the past five years. Knowing when enough is enough, and looking to give to others at every possible moment. I haven’t had kids yet, I haven’t settled into a house for longer than one year for over a decade, and I’m still working to make writing and creating music something I share with people, but I am more content with my life right now than I ever have been.
Thank you for helping me to take a moment to realise and wholeheartedly appreciate this life of mine. Peace to you and your family my friend. 🧡