The pursuit of happiness has long been seen as life’s ultimate goal, but is this true? To describe life’s primary objective as ‘to be happy’ is an overly simplified answer to a very complicated question. If a pill was developed that would make people happy for the rest of their lives, they would not take it. Happiness needs authenticity. Happiness alone is not a meaningful life objective. Permanent happiness is unattainable and so it should be. Moments of joy and happiness elevate the senses, all the more so, as they happen infrequently.
Ask Alexandra Fleming when he was developing penicillin, to leave the labortory, give up his experiments and go out and have fun and be happy, and he’d tell you to go away. The real goal in life is fulfilment. To test this theory is simple. One cannot be happy if one is not fulfilled. Yet, when one is fulfilled it is possible to be happy. Fulfilment is infinitely subjective, based on environment, ability, temperament, so on and so forth. Many people in the developing world do not have the opportunity to be become fulfilled. In the West, we should count ourselves lucky.
Fulfilment comes in many guises, with different levels of simplicity and complexity. A passionate gardener tending huge acreage, or an actor playing many theatre roles for example, might achieve great fulfilment through their working lives – it is not necessary to be an eminent scientist or intellectual. The work that one chooses (or has little choice to do) will have an impact on life fulfilment but not wholly so. It is possible, although with lesser degrees, to live a fulfilled life outside of the workplace. Fulfilment goes beyond personal goals and encompasses our relationships with others and the world as a whole.
Generally living the life that one chooses; actualising our abilities we want to develop, having rich, worthwhile relationships with others and showing compassion in the world, can all lead to a fulfilled and contented life. Fleeting happiness will occur as a consequence. But it is not an end in itself. Life has too many ups and downs to make happiness permanently possible. Yet fulfilment in all its guises is all the more worthwhile.
Taken from the book ‘Happiness & How to Avoid It’ by Steve Carver to be published soon.