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Happiness Is An Indirect Goal

Don’t seek to be happy; be good, and then you will become happy.

Everyone wants to be happy, but few people truly are.

The trap of the direct approach

Most people believe that happiness is a target that can be directly pursued. The pursuit of wealth and pleasure illustrates this. The gratification of sensory pleasures brings a certain degree of short-term satisfaction, but rarely does it bring enduring and intense happiness.

The indirect process

The indirect approach involves becoming a good person. Stated like this, it may sound simplistic, but it is actually more subtle than it seems. Being good involves a lot of things, but essentially, it means working for the good of people and, more than that, working for the good of all living beings. When one starts to become a good person, one becomes satisfied with little. It is often our vices that amplify our desires. For example, out of narcissism, one might wish to buy the most beautiful accessories or cars to flaunt on social media. With a little wisdom, one would have avoided this trouble because one would have measured the vanity of such an endeavor. This endeavor consists of wanting to please people we do not know, who would not respect or love us solely for what we have, not truly for who we are. In short, true and lasting happiness is obtained through the practice of virtue.

Consistency vs. intensity

If the indirect approach ultimately appeals to few people, it is because it requires consistency for it to bear fruit. The hedonistic and direct approach impresses because it is intense and evident. This is the same reason why people drink alcohol; they experience euphoria, a certain pleasure that is nevertheless followed by undesirable effects. The happiness of wicked people is somewhat of the same nature. At first glance, it seems intense and delicious, but what it hides is a miserable life full of torment afterward. Sustainable happiness is similar to a marathon; it requires constant effort for minimal gains on a daily basis. Yet, over time, we notice that the distance covered is enormous.

The cumulative effect of good

Good actions create a positive cumulative effect that continually generates better things. The more we practice virtue, the more we are able to cultivate authentic happiness within ourselves. Conversely, the more we practice vice, the harder it is to find true happiness, the more dissatisfied we become, and the more we seek to fill this void externally.

Cultivating true happiness

There are several forms of happiness because the human being has several dimensions: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, etc. The most enduring happiness is that which serves our most enduring dimension. Among all the dimensions of being, the one that is theoretically the most permanent is our soul. Soulful happiness is the most subtle, and it is built by being a force for good here on earth. It involves a certain idea of sacrifice but with a greater reward.

Not all battles are worth fighting

In nature, there are three ways to react to danger: flight, combat, or freezing. Many of our misfortunes result from choosing a battle that was not worth fighting. To be happy, we must know how to allocate our resources (time, attention, and energy) appropriately. It is by focusing the majority of our resources on things that truly matter that we can progress and find joy and serenity. Out of pride, inflexibility, or foolishness, we may find ourselves fighting battles that were not ours, which may be detrimental because we will have diverted our precious resources that could have been used towards our loved ones, a vocation, or all those who value what we are.

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