Stop trying to be happy all of the time.

Modern self help gurus sell the idea of happiness. According to them our natural state is to be happy all of the time. Thus we see fatuous topics such as the ubiquitous “seven steps to happiness,” as if you can just dial it in whenever you need it. That would have been a good one to sell to your fellow inmates in the gulag.

I am not being completely flippant with that last remark. Imagine that you’re in a concentration camp and some berk is going around attempting to get people to pay to listen to his talk on “seven steps to happiness.” When you’re faced with a daily battle for mere survival you have no time for this rubbish. The onerous circumstances bring the idiocy into stark relief.

But our daily lives are also a struggle, not for mere survival thankfully, but for the other mundane challenges of life. The snake oil salesmen of the self help industry milk this cow for all it’s worth. They are selling pretty lies – lies that can have devastating consequences.

Being happy all of the time is not our natural state. The drive to achieve and succeed most often springs from a line somewhere between dissatisfaction and dire circumstances. We are on this planet to learn and evolve, not to remain in some cocoon of idyllic bliss. It is the daily struggle that compels and propels us to succeed that is our great gift.

Which means that life has its ups and downs. But if you have sucked on the poisonous teat of constant happiness you will be ill prepared to face the moments when things appear rather grim. Dalrock has another excellent piece up, the theme of which is the impact that fault free divorce has had on marriage and the family over the past fifty years.

The simple fact is the moment you attribute moral value to romantic love you are creating a rival to biblical sexual morality.  In biblical sexual morality it is marriage that creates a moral space for sex and romantic love (with romantic love not separated from sexual passion).  We have overturned God’s order here, and are now claiming that romantic love is the moral space for marriage and sex.  This is deceptively subtle, and at the same time demolishes the moral meaning of marriage.

Recently the good wife voiced the opinion to me that she thinks that people would be better off in the long term if marriages were arranged. I agree with her. In fact I believe that it may be the only real way out of the impasse which has developed as a result of combining the ideas of romantic love, fault free divorce, and constant happiness. I have a number of Indian friends due to the amount of cricket that I play. Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to discuss with them how arranged marriages work in their culture. I have also seen a number of them get married themselves with a partner who was entirely chosen by both of their families.

It appears that these marriages succeed at a much higher rate than Western marriages arranged on the nebulous foundation of romantic love. What is surprising is how often love develops and grows within the arranged marriages. I believe that this is due to the solid foundation on which the couple enters the marriage. The basis for the marriage is that they are a team. They have a responsibility to themselves and to their greater families for the marriage to succeed. A successful marriage will enrich their families as well as themselves.

In other words, happiness or romantic love are no basis for entering a lifelong commitment where difficult circumstances and periods of unhappiness and uncertainties will no doubt arise. These will arise because life is a series of ups and downs. Your ability to meet these challenges will ultimately determine your own success in life, as well as marriage.

What we see in Western marriages is the common predicament of one half of the marriage cutting and running as soon as they encounter any real problem. If you are taught to believe that you need to be happy all the time, and if you find yourself in a period in your marriage where you are unhappy, and if there exists fault free divorce, why the answer is clear – change your partner and get your happiness back with your new “love of your life.”

The truly ironic thing is that you are more likely to achieve real and long lasting love through a marriage built on a solid foundation of team work. As you work together to succeed and overcome obstacles then the love that you have for this other person who is your bedrock in life begins to grow. The more challenges you overcome, the more hard times you get through, then the more that love has a chance to develop.

And perhaps as a result you will achieve some measure of happiness. A happiness gained through the satisfaction of knowing that you did your best with another person by your side. That’s not a happiness that you magically discover in a weekend seminar that you paid good money for. So stop searching for happiness as an end in itself. Because it’s not only a dead end – it is a contemptuous goal for living your life.

4 thoughts on “Stop trying to be happy all of the time.

  1. I would argue that many people equate happiness with passion. Oh, that adrenalin rush, the heady wine of lust, the gratification of one’s desires, what’s not to enjoy? The problem is passion fades and it really can’t be re-captured. The end result is people rush from one marriage to another to get that passion fix. Like any other junkie they don’t care who it hurts or what they do to get it. These happiness gurus are just another group of pushers.

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  2. David Moore

    The cult of happiness is something I wonder about frequently. Observing various people I know discovering yoga or Buddhism or what ever in the hopes that this was the thing ‘missing’ or giving them the ‘answer’ has left me seeing nothing but prey and predators.

    Happiness is simply something that is not very valuable. A cow is happy when in a grassy field surrounded by other cows. The Bhutanese measure happiness because it’s free and they have nothing else to measure.

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  3. LadyMoonlight

    Romantic love is a relatively new addition to the reason people marry, at least in the Western world. I can see some value in arranged marriages, however, there is a down side. What if the husband is abusive and there is no one the wife can turn to…certainly not to family who could be shamed in the community because of a failed marriage if the community thinks the husband just wouldn’t do such a thing. The wife just has to tolerate abuse. It also assumes that love automatically grows over time. What if it doesn’t? Does one simply live in a marriage with no love and no prospect of any happiness whatsoever?

    I agree that the constant pursuit of happiness is a ridiculous concept, and the are most certainly correct concerning the bankable self-help industry and gurus. Challenges in life are necessary for progress, both spiritual and in the physical, mundane world. As John Denver said, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stone.”

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    1. While there are certainly downsides to arranged marriages I believe they pale in comparison to the downsides we see in marriages today. As to the specific situation you described, I think that the onus is on the parents of each match to get the pairing right. The fact that everyone has skin in the game elevates the chances of success. No guarantees however, but only imbeciles demand guarantees.

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