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Is happiness reaching the mountain peak or navigating the rocky road to get there?

Photo of rocky path in the forest

Image courtesy of https://picography.co/

“Happiness is a Warm Puppy,” by Charles Schulz, was one of my favorite childhood books. I always viewed happiness as an enigma, yearning to know what it was.

In a scene from the movie, “28 days,” Gwen’s boyfriend, Jasper, argues his point that happiness is an illusion: “No adult human being is happy. People are born. They have a limited amount of time going around thinking life is dandy, but then, inevitably tragedy strikes and they realize life equals loss. The whole point of the game is to minimize the pain caused by that equation. Now some people do it by having kids or making money or taking up coin collecting, and others do it by getting wasted…everybody hurts everybody. It’s the human condition.” It’s a gloomy perspective but not without merit. We keep setting goals thinking, once I achieve that, I will be happy.

Why we should all give up on goals already,” is a BBC article that cites studies showing that focusing on the process engenders more happiness than focusing on the outcome. It makes sense. People who exercise only to lose weight or diet restrictively are frustrated and sad. Those who relish activity and conscientious eating enjoy the journey toward good health. Maybe they reach the same results, but in the end, it’s obvious who would likely be happier.

The article talks about getting “emotionally attached to a goal…setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment.” It’s easy to get caught up in that web. I have a tendency to finish what I started whether or not it’s a positive experience. I have stuck with relationships and jobs longer than I should have due to a sense of commitment. My inclination is to adapt and make the best of things for the sake of the goal. Sometimes, happiness is knowing when to let go.

“One of the first problems is the targets people choose…Many aren’t necessarily our own ambitions, but what we think we should do,” according to author Amanda Ruggeri. No wonder so many marriages fail when we are told from the time of our youth by family and media that we should aspire to marital bliss. The same can be applied to political families who raise politicians from the crib whether the child grows up with political ambitions or not. It’s interesting that George W. Bush took up painting and stayed out of the limelight once he left office.

One of the suggestions the article offers is to focus not on the light at the end of the tunnel but on the negative that you want to change. Think about avoiding ill health rather than losing five pounds by the end of the week. Maybe happiness is not the achievement of a long-term goal but a day-by-day process of avoiding what we know makes us unhappy. The question then would be: What do I need to remove from my life that is getting in the way? I’ve learned how to keep my head above water by finding anchors, but that’s not the same as happiness.

I once had a mentor whose name I had used as a reference when applying for a job. My mentor told my prospective employer that I walked on water. The hiring manager said, “It might just be that she knows where the stones are.”

 Maybe I do.