Why I Have Given Up the Pursuit of Happiness

05/21/2015 02:05 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2016


"I have a long way to go before happy," she told me, talking about happiness as if it were an X on a map. She saw her recent heartbreak like a gust of wind, something that had blown her off course. In her eyes, her life was now this journey, this scratching and clawing and fumbling her way back to that elusive X. To destination: happy.

In the pursuit of happiness, all too often we end up playing the role of Sisyphus. We become obsessed with pushing our burdens uphill, hoping we'll make it to the top, maybe this time for keeps. But it will inevitably tumble back. It always will. So what does that make the pursuit of happiness, then? Is it nothing more than the walk back down, counting our footsteps, calculating just how far we have to go until we're happy again? Is the pursuit of happiness the sweat in our brow, waiting for the day when we'll actually stay at the summit?

I'm sorry, Zeus -- I've got to leave my post. I have no interest in pushing the boulder anymore.

Some would consider giving up the pursuit of happiness as admitting defeat -- as assuming there is just not enough happiness to make the pursuit worth it. I couldn't disagree more. There are so many wonderful reasons to smile, to laugh, to be happy. Life is tough, but life is beautiful. There is so much joy in this world to uncover, and it doesn't mean I won't stop being an optimist, an idealist, a dreamer. It does not mean I will stop finding reasons to smile. It does not mean I will stop uncovering those moments of joy.

Others would see it as saying that I don't care to be happy. That couldn't be further from the truth. There are few things I love quite like the easy smile that comes when you are truly, genuinely happy. I like being happy. I would even go so far as to say I would prefer it. But I am simply no longer fretting about the chase. My eye is no longer on that X, feverishly plotting out ways back to it whenever I am blown off course, berating myself when I feel so far away from it.

I've given up the quest for happiness because no one is happy all the time. Happiness is an emotion, one that will come and go, like sadness and excitement and amusement and frustration. How exhausting life would be if we scrambled for a constant feeling of anger the way we do for happiness. I do not want to scramble for happiness, eschewing all other emotions because they're somehow harder to process. I'm done with seeing happiness as an X on a map. Happiness is not a destination; it's a type of weather we experience while on the road.

I'm on a new quest: a quest for peace of mind. A quest to find an inner balance that can take in the good, the bad, the melancholy, the tragic, the mundane, the bizarre. Take it all in equally. Find the poetry in it. See that the whole range of human emotions and experiences cannot be sectioned off in such easy, neat, distinct categories. I'm on a quest to live in the present moment with my eyes wide open, thinking no less of myself if I am laughing or crying or sighing wearily.

I'm on a quest to continue to connect with the rest of the world. I am on a quest to experience and give experiences. I want to take that step forward and be in the universe. I want to help and love and reach out and, maybe through that kindness and care and charity, find a little meaning, a little satisfaction, a moment or two of happiness for myself. I want my arms open and my heart bursting and my soul filled to the brim. I don't want to close off because it's not one easy, set emotion.

I'm in the pursuit of life as music. Happiness is one note, striking sharp or flat and not much more. I want to experience and appreciate life the way I experience and appreciate music: with the crescendos and the decrescendos, the high notes and the low notes, that brief cacophony before the symphony unfolds. How foolhardy would it be to pursue a note -- one note -- and demand that it be played indefinitely?

I'm not in the pursuit of happiness for the same reason I'm not in the pursuit of the C-sharp. It doesn't matter if one note might be harder to come by than the others. In the end, it is just noise if that is all that is played.

In short, I've given up on the pursuit of noise: life, liberty, and the pursuit of melody.