Carl Jung said that pursuing happiness as a life goal creates “spiritual bypass”.
Have you ever noticed that the experiences that make you the happiest are also the ones that make you most miserable? If a bad thing happens, it feels like the end of your world; but if something good happens, you’re suddenly overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.
How often do you ask yourself, Is this making me satisfied? If you’re like most people, it’s rarely—if ever—because the natural tendency is to seek out things that will give us happiness, not satisfaction. It’s easy to fall into this trap, but pursuing happiness instead of satisfaction can actually lead to less actual happiness overall.
Happiness is a fleeting experience.
Happiness can be defined as a momentary state of mind where you experience pleasure or delight; satisfaction comes from being content or pleased with a situation or outcome that you’ve worked towards achieving (or at least contributing to). In other words, happiness is something that happens to us—it’s an emotion that affects our mood for a short time before fading away again..
The problem with happiness is that it’s fleeting. It’s a positive emotion, but not all positive emotions are created equal. In order to become happy, you have to be lucky enough to satisfy each one of the three underlying needs that lead to happiness – physiological (the need for food, shelter and sleep), social (the need for love and companionship), and psychological (the need for a sense of accomplishment). But these needs are often not fulfilled because the world doesn’t provide perfect conditions. When you don’t feel satisfied by one or more needs, it creates an unhappiness gap.
What does it mean to be satisfied?
Satisfaction and happiness often go hand in hand, but there are notable differences. Satisfaction is durable; it lasts over time. Happiness, on the other hand, tends to come in waves with moments of joy that quickly fade. With happiness, it feels like once you experience the feeling, it’s all downhill. But with satisfaction, achieving what you want doesn’t make the feelings disappear.
The problem with chasing happiness
The quest for happiness actually distracts from what brings true joy. Happiness has its place, but not as an end goal. Happiness should be seen as an occasional experience that we should enjoy when it comes our way, rather than something we relentlessly pursue as if happiness were some kind of addiction.
The pursuit of happiness as a goal in life is a form of spiritual bypass. Happiness is a fleeting experience: one that can be enjoyed but not truly grasped. Happiness is like that first bite of a gourmet sandwich—it’s so good you can’t believe your taste buds. But after the initial explosion of flavor and delight, you’re left with an empty feeling and hunger for more. You want to go back for another bite and experience those same sensations again…and again…and again…but eventually (probably sooner than later), it won’t be enough anymore. In fact, by eating too much of anything delicious we often end up sick from excess or bored from routine. This pursuit of an unsustainable experience is the exact process that keeps you stuck, frustrated and unable to enjoy what is in front of you.
What can I do instead?
Instead of pursuing happiness and feeling depressed when you can’t find it, maybe it’s worth considering if happiness really is the right goal to be after in the first place. Deep down, most people want more out of their lives than just happiness. Research in the fields of positive psychology, leads to many studies on how different types of satisfaction are durable and sustainable—lasting much longer than happiness could ever hope to be.
This concept isn’t just philosophy and self-help advice. It’s backed up by scientific studies that show people who pursue happiness report lower levels of life satisfaction. One study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science found that when people try to actively pursue happiness, they experience more negative emotion, which lowers overall levels of life satisfaction. The takeaway here isn’t that you should stop trying to be happy altogether; rather, it’s important to make efforts to find contentment with the present moment and ultimately strive to reach a place of satisfaction as your life goal.
Happiness is the most elusive and fleeting emotion imaginable. It’s also one of the most desirable and sought-after states of being, but it’s not worth chasing after. Happiness is fleeting because it depends on external factors, like your relationships, career and social standing. These things can change in an instant– and they will. When they do, you’ll be left wondering why you ever bothered to chase something so transient in the first place.
If you’re looking for a more sustainable way to live your life, then try investing in satisfaction. It’s not a fleeting thing that can be lost in an instant, it comes from meeting your personal standards (which are built into you as part of your nature), and it doesn’t require any external validation or encouragement. In short: Satisfaction is a much better use of your time and leads to more stable and durable contentment for the long haul. Which means that if you want a permanent solution to life’s problems, this might just be it.