The (real) pursuit of happiness
Hello again, fellow Gusties, I hope all of you have been keeping up with your homework while finding time to stay active and hang out with your friends lately. This week, I decided to write about something that affects everyone in all walks of life. This is, of course, the pursuit of happiness, a phrase well known in our culture thanks in part to our founding fathers, not to mention everyone’s favorite hip hop artist, Kid Cudi.
Although there are many interpretations of happiness, it all boils down to accepting all that one has with utter enthusiasm. Here at Gustavus, we are lucky enough to have the privilege of receiving an outstanding education while enjoying the company of our fellow students and distinguished professors, creating an atmosphere where happiness seems to be the norm.
However, there are billions of people (yes, billions) who are suffering from external circumstances that they did not create. And yet, these same people tend to be the ones who have realized the true essence of happiness. This paradox can be seen in the African child whose smile shines brighter than the North Star, despite his economic condition. Why is this child smiling? Because he has realized in some unknown chasm of his mind that life is beautiful. I do not mean the scenery surrounding him, but the fact that life exists. This fact is bigger than you, me, or the hypothetical young boy.
In the words of Siddhartha Gautama: “all life is suffering.” How then are we to find true happiness? The answer, says Gautama, is to free ourselves from desire. That is, do not evaluate happiness based on material possessions or external reality. The answer to our happiness is actually quite simple. Happiness cannot be found outside of ourselves in the world we inhabit; it can only be found within ourselves.
Although this may seem too simple of an answer, it is the complete and honest truth. If we try to base our happiness on something that is external of ourselves, we will never end up finding true happiness. This is because all externalities lack permanence. Even if we do one day find ourselves with millions of dollars, fancy cars, a mansion, and the like, those things will one day be gone, along with our mortal bodies.
This is why happiness can only be achieved by having a still and untroubled inner life.
The fact is, this is not an easy thing to do in our society. With thousands of pieces of sensory information flooding our consciousness daily, it is hard to find the peace and quiet needed to reveal the happiness that lies within.
More and more of society is being consumed by technology that creates a distortion of ourselves. We have come to associate our identity with the external reality which in the end can only fulfill us for so long. If we can transcend the reality we see before us and look directly into ourselves, into the fabric of our existence, we find that everything we can ever want is fulfilled.
Although many people here at Gustavus may base their happiness on the success they achieve in the classroom or on the playing field, this, too, is only an illusory happiness. It is not whether you win or lose that matters, it’s how you play the game. By living in a way that not only benefits yourself, but also those around you, happiness becomes something greater than just your own personal feeling. It becomes a way of life. This is why maintaining a calm and tranquil inner life is vital to navigating the ups and downs of life in a joyful manner.