According to the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness is a right that all people are born with and have a legal right to pursue. Yet, happiness has become for many, as elusive as winning the lottery. The goal of reaching a happy state of mind has become more important than the journey. Western Society, especially Americans, equate happiness with attaining financial freedom (it’s a part of the American Dream, right?). People struggle to attain this freedom through working hard for little pay. Their eye is on the money prize. Many people become disgruntled about their job, their co-workers, and their employers. Money then either brings happiness or eternal suffering. The barriers to this happiness are rooted in our evolution as a species and in psychological myth.
Human beings have evolved successfully over time. We have prolonged life through understanding how to prevent certain infectious diseases, we have been able to combat depression with medication and meditation, and advanced technologically even more so in the last 20 years. In article published in American Psychologist called “The Evolution of Happiness”, David Buss eludes to these previous facts. He continues to state the irony of how evolved human beings have become and yet, people overeat and consume unhealthy foods that create a different set of health problems. In addition people become addicted to substances that change the chemistry of their body and eventually lead to early death. Buss also states that people’s intimate connections become induced with one night stands, a perpetual search for better jobs and education leads people away from family and friends, and a loss of deep intimacy linked to well-being. Western society is bombarded with images of beautiful women or successful men in the media. People measure their worth based on these images of beauty and success and feel like failures. This sense of failure creates a barrier to human happiness.
Another barrier to happiness is the inability to forgive. When forgiveness is lacking, the grudge wins over. There is a saying that states a grudge is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die from it. Holding a grudge keeps a fraction of human interaction at less than a happy state. This includes the inability to forgive oneself. Statistics have revealed a correlation between good health and the ability to forgive. Not being able to forgive others or self creates hostility and eventually ill health. It also causes blood pressure to escalate and blood vessels constrict. The ability to forgive creates better mental and physical health.
Also, western society is fixated on the myth and expectation that attaining happiness will lead to more of it. Eastern religions believe that attaining enlightenment creates eternal bliss and within this same context, expectations cause miserable outcomes. The fallacy people believe and expect is happiness is a must and must be available at all times under all circumstances. Also under this fallacy is that something external will bring happiness (money, a relationship, a promotion, winning the lottery, etc). This type of thinking keeps people from living in the present moment. The perpetual belief that something better is around the corner prevents people from experiencing the now. It also prevents people from developing deeper and more meaningful bonds with one another. Happiness becomes something to attain but never attained, hence the saying that happiness is indeed, elusive.
Statistics claim that money does bring happiness but that happiness is only momentary. Why is this? The more money a person makes, the more expectation exists to increase wealth to maintain one’s happiness. An interesting fact relates to those who win the big pot at the end of the lottery rainbow. At first these winners are bursting with joy. They settle into their newly found wealth and soon enough the expectation of ever achieving happiness returns. In Culture and Subjective Well-Being by Ed Deiner and Shigehiro Oishi, a powerful question is asked: Will the pursuit of wealth produce greater happiness? If attaining wealth is not the true meaning of the pursuit of happiness, then wealth is also a barrier.
The Gallup World Poll on happiness may prove that theory wrong. The more prosperous a country or a person is, the happier they tend to be. The reasoning behind this supports Abraham Maslow’s theory that to create a sense of safety and well-being, basic survival needs must be provided for. In poorer countries, where prosperity is out of reach, people are happy by forming deep bonds with one another. This supports the third tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Overall, it is not money that brings day to day happiness. How people deal with day to day events creates happiness…or not.
These material and psychological barriers to happiness do not need to work against anyone. Concentrate on the journey as meaningful by living in the present moment rather than living for some perhaps future with the goal as most meaningful. What a person does not possess is not going to bring happiness. The happiness that each person wishes for is within reach: dig deep within to find it.