Episode 83: Should Happiness be our Goal?

Behind and beneath all our smaller goals sits one enormous Ultimate goal — to be Happy. Whether by purchasing the latest consumer product, doing yoga, taking a holiday or searching for our dream job, we are all trying to get there.  Happy. Happiness.  But is happiness really a goal we can strive to achieve?

In this episode and in honour of the New Year, Clay and Sarah ask — should Happiness be our goal?


In this episode:

* Why we are naturally wired to want to feel good

* what do we mean by Happiness?

* Is there a distinction between ‘happy’ and ‘happiness’?

* our unending search to be perpetually Happy

* Is happiness an acheivable goal, or a bi-product of achieving other goals

* Why facing challenges and discomfort is essential for abiding happiness

* Buddhist definition of happiness as freedom from desire and aversion

* GNH (Gross National Happiness), the measure of success in Bhutan



Aristotle once claimed, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

With a cursory glance, we might read this, nod our heads and move on.  And yet, if we took time to pause and ask ourselves — have we achieved Happiness? — we might immediately reflect on all the recent times we have felt dissatisfied, uncomfortable, sad, angry… generally Unhappy.

To think of Happiness as a goal we can set out, achieve and then rest forever in perpetual satisfaction doesn’t seem realistic.

And to be fair, the kind of emotional highs we typically associate with being Happy is probably not the mental and emotional state Aristotle was referring to.

”Happiness is not a goal,” Eleanor Roosevelt once advised in her book You Learn by Living, “it is a by-product.”

In many ways this makes sense.  Although we often view happiness as our ultimate goal, it isn’t a goal you can simply set and achieve like a New Year’s Resolution.  Often it seems like a goal that is always shifting, always moving away as we achieve the latest success we thought would make us happy or finally purchase the shiny new toy we’ve been longing for.

Instead, perhaps abiding happiness comes as a by-product of living in a way that enhances our well-being.

There is some excellent research towards this end on Authentic Happiness by Dr Martin Seligman who claims that happiness is a state of well-being that we can cultivate by understanding our personal strengths and then incorporating them as much as possible into our current lives.

Perhaps also we should distinguish between feeling Happy, that elated, short-lived emotional high, from a kind of quieter but more abiding sense of Contentment, Well-being, Happiness… 

… then instead of chasing those emotional highs, we might start setting goals in the areas of our life that lead to Contentment instead.

”Happiness isn’t a goal you can set and achieve,” wrote Vanessa Scotto in her article ‘Why I stopped making happiness my goal’. “It’s a by-product of living a life that fits you, that inspires you.”

Ultimately, Scotto concludes, we should stop striving to be constantly happy and we should stop making happiness our goal.  “Set your compass towards meaning, aliveness and inspiration. Whatever works for you and gets you awake and in the game.”


What do you think? Do you see being Happy as your ultimate goal? Do you think we should make a distinction between being Happy and Happiness? What is it that gets You awake and in the game?