The Pursuit of Happiness

Although the Declaration of Independence asserts that our Creator has endowed us with the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, Metapsychiatry suggests that it is not especially wise to run after it. Instead, it states that “health and happiness are fruits of a commitment to, and an abiding interest in, what God wants.”

Metapsychiatry often examines the etymology of words it considers important because such investigations not infrequently uncover illuminating, consciousness-expanding, and valuable, even if not necessarily current or well known, meanings. And we all know that language is a living phenomenon undergoing constant alteration.

Reflecting this mutativity, the Oxford English Dictionary is based on the evolving history of the definitions given to words at different times. It reports that the word “happy” originally meant “lucky, fortunate, favored by circumstance,” indicating that it is neither intentional nor pursuable. It has more recently come to mean “having the feeling arising from satisfaction with one’s circumstances or condition.” Still, man tends to deliberately seek happiness in the hope that it will prove to be both attainable and sustainable, as corroborated by those childhood fairy tales that typically end with the phrase “and they lived happily ever after.”

Buddhist philosophy tries to discourage such unrealistic hopes by emphasizing the pervasiveness of impermanence in human experience. Many spiritual teachings attempt to shelter seekers from disappointment by promoting acceptance of the unavoidable occurrence of suffering in life. And although the various religious-spiritual perspectives view suffering as either inevitable (i.e. the inherent nature of life) or preventable (merely the consequence of unhealthy desire), man still inclines toward searching for a secular kind of happiness, not just the elimination of suffering, as a valid goal in life. But, all too commonly, what we think will produce happiness is the improvement of our individual being or the achievement of a certain status among our fellows or the acquisition of specific goods. In each of these endeavors, happiness depends on associating or identifying objects or qualities external to oneself with oneself.

Metapsychiatry, by contrast, sees happiness as simply a welcome byproduct or accrual of a sincerely held, valid orientation in life, one that values “what already is,” as opposed to the “what should be” typically required by the pursuit of happiness. It cites the Buddhist monks who cheerfully chop wood and carry water all day long as bringing a sense of happiness to their work, rather than demanding or expecting satisfaction from it. The implication of this koan/story is that their joyfulness derives from their knowledge and appreciation of their identity and their gratitude for the opportunity to be useful in their community.

Happiness, then, is not to be pursued directly, for any object-oriented concept of happiness is destined ultimately to induce its opposite. Being aware of this, even to the extent of asking ourselves whether we have succumbed to its temptation, can help us to quickly reorient ourselves, as we are reminded of the necessity and desirability of “being here for God.”