The Paradox of Happiness: What is it and How does it Work?

· July 3, 2018

‘Happiness’ is one of the most used words in the world. In today’s culture, it represents the ultimate goal for many people. However, it wasn’t always like that. In past ages, the essential purpose of life had to do with virtue, offspring, or property. In the modern era, the paradox of happiness assumes the leading role.

The paradox of happiness is that almost everyone wants to be happy. However, when people are asked what happiness is, they can hardly define it. If you go a little further and ask yourself why you want to be happy, the answer is probably unclear. One would think that the answer would be obvious because of how much you want to reach your goal. Nevertheless. . .

“The grand essentials of life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

– Thomas Chalmers

If you want to keep complicating your life, you could ask a third question: How is happiness achieved? There are many answers to this question, based on each person’s beliefs. Perhaps professional achievements, success, and having a happy marriage would be the most common responses. However, it would be difficult to concretely define how these things contribute to happiness or what you expect to happen when you find happiness.

So, in short, almost everyone seeks happiness in this modern day and age, but most don’t know what it is or why they want it. Furthermore, they likely only have a slight hunch about the path that must be followed to achieve it. This is the great paradox of happiness.


The paradox of happiness and dissatisfaction

Dr. Iris B. Mauss, a professor at the University of Denver, conducted two investigations to find out how the subject of happiness in people works. The results of those studies are really disconcerting, and they bring us closer to what the paradox of happiness is.

In the first study, an analysis of three aspects was carried out:

  • The degree of importance each person gave to happiness
  • The external conditions which the participants lived in. That is, social and professional position, satisfaction of basic needs, etc.
  • The relationship between good external conditions and a sense of happiness

The result was that people who gave enormous value to happiness felt more dissatisfied, even if they had excellent external conditions in their lives. On the other hand, those who were more neutral or didn’t give as much importance to the pursuit of happiness felt more satisfied. This happened even if their life circumstances were more difficult. These conclusions show the essence of the paradox of happiness.

Happiness and loneliness

Researchers carried out a second similar experiment at the University of Denver. In this case, satisfaction was not measured, but rather how loneliness was experienced by those who gave great importance to happiness and those who did not.

The results were very similar to those of the first study. People who pursued happiness intensely felt more alone, while those who didn’t give it that much importance didn’t experience that feeling. That is, they didn’t feel particularly lonely.

The initial conclusion in this regard is that those who are busily seeking happiness focus excessively on themselves. Searching for success and fulfillment breaks the bond with others. This strengthens the feeling of loneliness. Here again, the paradox of happiness is verified.

The coordinates of happiness

From these studies, we can draw interesting conclusions. The first, and perhaps most important one, is that external achievements are not a source of happiness as such. That is why many people feel only a brief period of satisfaction after obtaining something they wanted badly, and then may feel a malaise that leads them to set up a new goal for themselves, creating an endless cycle.

Happiness, therefore, is a process that brews within us. It’s a reality that only partially has to do with external achievements. Perhaps many search tirelessly for that happiness with a secret desire to end the “eternal” dissatisfaction that inhabits them. They don’t realize that the paradise they seek is within them.

On the other hand, studies allow us to conclude that the idealization of the concept of happiness only leads to frustration. Those who accept that happiness is only a part of life manage to feel more satisfied and that a permanent state of happiness shouldn’t be the goal because that is precisely what makes it inexistent. This helps us accept reality as it is, and therefore to feel satisfied more often.

What we vaguely call happiness, that feeling of joy and fulfillment, is something that only occasionally occurs. In any case, making the decision to be the best version of ourselves will make happiness come to us on its own.