On balance, I have a good life. Everything I want and need is around me. I spend quality time with family, work the way I choose and pursue my passions with little or no distraction. Life is sweet and I'm fulfilled, but I still haven't found true happiness.
I'm not even certain it exists.
Although I refocused my life for the better, I wouldn't say I'm in a constant state of happiness. I share ideas on living a life less ordinary but it's not one in which I'm eternally happy.
I love where I live but the heat gets me down and the traffic makes me crazy. I work the way I want to but the projects can be monotonous and the hours unsociable. I adore my wife but we argue like most and are prone to driving each other mad.
And even if this elusive feeling does exist, what is it based upon? An easy life with less responsibility or commitment? A comfort zone with things we don't really need and the endorsements of those who shouldn't really matter? A way of living defined by the ideas of others without regard for what we desire?
If true happiness is persistent laughter and feelings of joy, a steady supply of cash in my back pocket and the ability to purchase anything I want, whenever I want, then I must still be searching.
But if true happiness is satisfaction, accomplishment, feelings of love, gratitude, thankfulness for the things I have in this life and compassion for others, then maybe I'm closer to it than I first thought.
My own happiness quest
Early searches for happiness were unhealthy. I obsessed about everything that other people had and I sought out ways to gain these things for myself. If I ticked the right boxes, I'd be happy, yet the more I gained, the less happy I became. Any positive feelings I did have were temporary.
I wanted more.
I don't think I understood myself and what I needed. I sought out the wrong things to make me happy and usually in the wrong places.
I looked into my past for answers - perhaps something that once worked before could again provide me with joy. I narrowed my focus - if I could figure out the right job, I'd find happiness in abundance. I blamed others around me when I should have known I was the only person who could bring about real change. I surrounded myself with inappropriate people - the kind who were happy to keep me in a box rather than lift me higher.
My quest took me to the wrong places and happiness couldn't be found.
I eventually redefined my world and focused on the things that mattered - family, lifestyle, a balanced career, travel, life abroad, the pursuit of personal passions. I awaited the arrival of that one true happiness but the sensations remained temporary and their permanence eluded me.
My life conditions had improved, as had my accomplishments and outlook, but still...
The problem with happiness
Happiness is what we all want and search for. We desire it and long for it.
People we think are happy have everything - a great job, future plan, supportive family, positive attitude, and much much more. We believe the same things will make us happy but they often don't.
And when we come up short searching for these things, we continue to search elsewhere. We search in our relationships, in our cities and towns, livelihoods and lifestyles, in our religion and values, even in alcohol and drugs.
In a focused pursuit of what we think will make us happy, we end up taking life too seriously and miss the point altogether. Happiness fades yet the longing remains.
There are those of us who want true happiness but are unable to make the effort to give up something to gain it. Or we don't know how to. The futile search makes us feel worse because we never seem to get to the end goal.
People talk too much about the pursuit of happiness. It feels misguided to me, like an illusion we've been conditioned to since birth.
Our attention is in the wrong place and it wastes our time.
Rather than fixate on something that seems so unhealthy, that feels this unrealistic, why don't we focus on other ways of feeling good about ourselves?
From my own experience, I learnt to have more appreciation of the things that matter, that are of importance. Instead of aspiring to be happy, why shouldn't I strive for contentment, which seems to be an easier, more achievable concept to me?
Shivya Nath at The Shooting Star summed it up: "Knowing that I can mess up and live a little, going after dreams that to most people seem unfeasible, that to me is the closest I'll get to happiness and I'm okay with that. I'm content with that."
Paul Dolan, author of Happiness by Design, suggests we think about where to place our attention and recommends redirecting it to things that create a sense of purpose or pleasure - or both. In turn, these things can lead to an overall sense of well-being, satisfaction, even fulfilment. But not eternal happiness.
Whatever it is we've been told will make us happy probably won't. Whether it's the changed view out the window, the job with the shiny new car, extensive travel or even the people around us, these things won't make us forever happy but they will make us more appreciative of our lives.
I'd rather face life's challenges and hurdles - the positives and the negatives - with the aim of being content with what I'm doing, where I'm doing it and who I'm doing it with.
But I won't always be happy. At least not in the way we've always been told.
Have you found true happiness or is there an alternative? What does happiness mean to you?