Happiness is an interesting and complex emotion, perhaps better described as a state of being. Happiness comes in all shapes, forms, and sizes. It can be a fleeting, momentary experience of social joy and connection, or it can come in a lasting, unconditional form of love. It can be held in the heart of the dreamer, who looks towards his future, idolizing a particular fantasy he sees for his life and himself, or it can even be found in the tiny molecules that make up the biology of the fact-driven realist. Happiness is everywhere around us.
So why aren’t we happy?
As it turns out, perhaps the dreamer has it right. Fleeting happiness is easily achieved, especially when we involve the participation of other people to lend to our feelings of love, joy, and social worthiness. But these emotions aren’t exactly true, lasting, within ones-self happiness. These emotions feel fantastic in the moment, but have the tendency to fade.
For centuries, the greatest minds have pondered at the very subject. What is true happiness? How can we achieve it? How can we have it for good?
We’ve heard it before in quotes and by literary and other geniuses of our time, but when will we realize it for ourselves? The key to happiness, as it turns out, is simple. It’s progress. Progress and happiness can be used interchangeably, since with progress comes happiness, and from happiness comes progress.
Victor Hugo’s statement on this subject matter enveloped me as I deciphered my way through Les Miserables. I read it, half-asleep, but something within it woke me up and put me on high alert. I read it again. And then again. Something about it struck me as so vividly correct, and yet I couldn’t grasp at why I’d never seen this truth in life before.
“Progress is the mode of man. The general life of the human race is called Progress; the collective advance of the human race is called Progress. Progress marches on; it makes the great human and terrestrial journey toward the celestial and divine; it has its halts where it rallies the belated flock; it has its pauses where it meditates… He who despair is wrong. Progress infallibly wakes up, and, in short, we might say that it advances even in sleep, for it has grown… What then is progress? We have just said. The enduring life of the people.”
If we are meant to be happy, we must always be in a state of progress. We must work hard – day in and day out – to get to that state of moving forward, to be in motion towards something better, to always have something divine just outside of our reach, and once we have grasped it, we must enjoy it only momentarily before looking forward again, setting another goal, dreaming once more, and continuing to reach.
And according to Elizabeth Gilbert, who in my opinion is just as much of a literary genius…
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”
Personal effort, progress, marching forward, insistence, persistence, fighting, creating, working, journeying – these are the modes of transport wherein we find happiness. And as I travel around the world searching for mine, I see that the saying is much more meaningful: happiness is a journey, not a destination.
Happiness is found quite figuratively on the road towards it, for once you reach the destination of happiness, true despair can easily ensue. Whether in the form of disappointment for your goal not being quite what you’d imagined, or in the heartbreak of having achieved the very thing you so longed for all your life, which now leaves you with a sense of loss and emptiness, we must never place too much pressure on happiness being a destination. Instead, we must consider happiness as something to assist us and give us pleasure throughout our journey. Happiness is the simple, unavoidable outcome of progress.
As I sat at the park today in Budapest that wraps around a pond, situated just down the street from my newly acquired house, I was reminded of a time not long ago. When I put in my headphones and listened to my music, the Hungarian conversations around me fading away, nothing much was different. It was as though, both in spirit and in mind, I was back in Orlando, sitting around Lake Eola watching the birds in peace and wondering at the possibilities of my future. I was back at a moment in my life where progress stretched out before me, bringing with it all kinds of true feelings of happiness. Since this time in Orlando, I’ve made such progress and felt such happiness, and now that I’ve accomplished many things I had set out to just a few months ago, I’ve had my fair share of heartbreak and loss. This is only further evidence to me of the truth of achieving happiness, and the key to living a fulfilling, rewarding, and exciting life. The same, I believe, is true for all of us.
Keep dreaming and keep progressing, and keep that incomparable feeling of true happiness.