The pursuit of happiness


MANILA, Philippines — I post stuff in my digital spaces every day. One day a young millennial replied to my daily posts saying, “The chief end of life is to pursue happiness.” This is not my first time encountering young people with the same sentiment. Where did this pervasive thought come from in the first place?

Years ago, I remembered a brilliant speaker comparing parents’ responses from the Western part of the globe to those from Asia. The question asked them was: “What is your desire for your children and their future?”

Many times, the responses from the West, particularly from the First World nations, would be: “I just want my children to be happy.” This is not the same sentiment from those who are from Asia. Their usual response is: “I want my children to be successful.” Of course, we still need to qualify what success and happiness are, but this mindset would set the system on how they would train their children.

Book author Monica C. Parker argues: “In America, the pursuit of happiness is pretty much baked into the whole creation of the nation,” she says. “It has become something of an obsession.” Americans long to be happy. Much of this drive is wrapped up in consumerism, with many of today’s brands trying to sell happiness. The positive-thinking movement is also fueling the focus, with self-help genres naming happiness as the objective. This sentiment and thought are echoed by our local band of “motivational speakers” and “thought leaders” who would say, speak and post the same idea on their social media sites which are then picked up and consumed by their tribes and followers. Perhaps this is why people quit because they are not “happy” with their jobs. Others leave their jobs because they cannot “love” their jobs, and what they do is causing them unhappiness.

We often find ourselves disillusioned and disappointed in our relentless pursuit of happiness. This dissatisfaction stems from our inability to predict what brings us joy accurately.

According to Parker, our misguided desires lead us to “miswant” things that we believe will make us happier than they do. Focusing solely on happiness is a fallacy and can ironically lead to unhappiness. Instead of fixating on happiness, Parker proposes embracing wonder as a more attainable and fulfilling pursuit. Encompassing both curiosity and awe offers an emotional experience that starts with openness and leads to curiosity and absorption.

Parker advocates adopting a “small self” perspective, wherein we recognize ourselves as small components of a more extensive system that promotes prosocial emotions, fostering humility, empathy and generosity.

Next is slowing down and engaging in intentional slow thoughts through meditation, narrative journaling, prayer, and gratitude exercises. These help us perceive the wonder that already exists in our lives. My favorite philosopher Dr. Dallas Willard says, “We have to ruthlessly eliminate hurry in our lives.” By observing the everyday elements of life and finding wonder in them, we can transform our perspective.

Rather than chasing happiness, Parker recommends seeing novelty and wonder instead. The brain is naturally attuned to new experiences, allowing us to focus more closely on unfamiliar details. Learning new things, developing new skills, and pursuing excellence with our work and craft would expand our sense of wonder. It also expands our emotional vocabulary, enabling us to navigate life’s ups and downs with greater resilience.

Walter Savage Landor’s observation that “We are no longer happy so soon as we wish to be happier” highlights the futility of constantly pursuing happiness. Instead, by embracing wonder, we attain a balance that allows us to appreciate the fleeting moments of joy that grace our lives. By going beyond the simplicity of happiness and embracing a diverse range of emotions, we become more adept at weathering challenges.

If you are constantly pursuing happiness, this means you are not happy in the first place. An unforgettable lesson I have learned came from Dr. Ravi Zacharias as he said: “The older you get, the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder, and only God is big enough to do that. Not only is He big enough, but He is also near enough. How do you find that wonder? There is a clue to meaning in our experiences – that clue is in relationships. The centerpiece of history is Jesus Christ Himself, and you will find unending wonder in a relationship with Him.”

Happiness is not pursuable. The Westminster Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”



(Francis Kongs podcast «Inspiring Excellence» is now available on Spotify, Apple, Google, or other podcast streaming platforms.)

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