Real life and the search for happiness

I’m wondering whether the search for happiness is at all a reasonable search. Don’t get me wrong, I want happiness as much as anyone. But sorrow is part of life, and facing sorrow and working through it (having a healthy cry for instance) works better than putting on a happy face.

I’m writing this blogpost in response to a review in Scientific American, May 2008, which mentions that 90% of Americans report that they are happy. Yet Pablo Sender says:

A common feature to most human beings is the pursuit of happiness. A second common feature is their failure in the pursuit. Our modern culture created an almost infinite amount of “happiness-producer-objects”. Technology, comfort, money, fame, a career are publicized as producers of happiness. We usually see even our relationships as no more than another object to bring happiness. But we are not happy.


The book reviewed in the Scientific American of May is by Eric G. Wilson. He takes a different approach. The title is self-explanatory: ‘Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy‘. He says, I’m paraphrasing from the quotes in Scientific American, that to be happy in a sad world is to be unrealistic, unauthentic and in denial.

I believe he is to some extent right. It is relevant to note that in the four truths the Buddha taught, the word happiness isn’t even mentioned:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
  3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
  4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practising the Eightfold Path

The main message of the Buddha was about sorrow, not happiness. The end of sorrow (or suffering, or stress) isn’t the same as happiness. Freedom of suffering sounds like happiness, but is perhaps closer in actual fact to serenity. So how does all this related to everyday ecstasy?

Originally published here.