Does Happiness Truly Exist?
The Pursuit of Happiness
Within the Declaration of Independence lies the famous right to “the Pursuit of Happiness” bestowed upon the American people; yet, when we think about happiness, many different thoughts come to mind. Perhaps happiness could mean strength, pride, self-respect, love, triumph, or something entirely different left to find. Regardless of what we believe we need to “find happiness”, it is arguable that we are connected by our constant states of dissatisfaction. While we experience joy, we often still feel an underlying longing for something more. So does achieving true happiness exist? Or is this desire for happiness a part of the human condition, providing us a source of purpose and motivation?
Failure In Success
There are various methods of pursuit when striving for happiness. The original “pursuit of happiness”, emphasized by Jefferson, was a euphemism for the pursuit of wealth. Similar to those who pursue wealth, many individuals interpret the pursuit of happiness as a quest for power, status, or rank; however, in reality, many who accomplish these goals find the results lackluster. Abd-al-Rahman III, Caliph of Córdoba in the tenth century, became one of the most powerful men of his time. He had various military and cultural achievements, and female attention, yet still believed his achievement of these goals did not equate to happiness. Before dying, he accounted exactly 14 days in his life in which he considered himself happy. Although he believed he spent his life pursuing happiness, he ultimately decided that happiness was elusive. Was Rahman’s method of pursuing happiness focused on the wrong things? Or was Rahman unsatisfied, simply because he was created to be?
Other methods of pursuit, focused on providing for and engaging with others, may seem more promising. Studies claim that long-lasting, loving relationships make you healthier and happier. But happier and happy are two different things. While parents claim that having children is fulfilling, depression and anxiety tend to be higher among actively parenting adults. This trend translates to romantic relationships as well.
Even when fulfilled, our brains still find ways to remind us of our shortcomings. Therefore, reaching complete happiness must depend on more than accomplishments or fulfillment.
Evolution Encourages Discontent
While feeling content with our circumstances may seem appealing, evolution pits us against this. Without our dissatisfactions in life, we may feel comfortable enough to lower our guards to survival risks. The human brain has developed to emphasize analytical thinking, which often leads us to find discontentment. Discontentment pushes us to work harder, acquire more resources, and increase our chances of surviving, reproducing, and providing for offspring. Our brains are not engineered to be consistently happy or without negative emotion. In fact, our negative emotions are there to protect us. For example, the brain uses depressive or anxious emotions to keep us away from risk or help us solve problems.
Happiness Is Dependent on the Mind
These factors make finding happiness seem elusive; however, many argue that with cognitive therapy, we can retrain our brains to choose happiness. Our thoughts lead our brains to release hormones that alter our mood. Stress hormones are directly linked to negative thoughts, but these thoughts can be reframed to positive thoughts. Even the most negatively thinking brains can improve, changing the neuronal patterns linked to negative thinking.
Repetitive mental activity, a method of cognitive therapy, can be utilized to reframe our brains to find sustained happiness. This strategy changes the brain’s wiring by improving the PFC, which regulates the emotions and importance we place on subjects. Using repetitive mental activity, by actively thinking positively and refocusing negative thoughts, allows the brain to strengthen connections in circuits that reaffirm these thought patterns This action retrains the brain to think more positively and thus produce more “happy” chemicals.
The Key to Happiness
All in all, achieving our goals and engagement is not what happiness is contingent on. To reap the benefits of our rewards, we must acquire a positive state of mind. The ability to consistently experience positive emotions requires consistent positive thoughts. Therefore, finding contentedness is possible, but with the right way of thinking.
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