The Paradox of Happiness

It is a truth universally acknowledged, Jane Austen almost wrote, that a human being in possession of a consciousness wants to be happy. And how do we usually try to get things we want? We reflect, we make plans, we take steps. We aim to get the thing we want, and we do things to achieve that aim.

The paradox of happiness is that if you make happiness your goal, if you focus on achieving happiness, if you aim to directly increase your happiness – all of this results in less happiness than if you make something else centrally important to you. Basically, it’s the lesson of much of my romantic career: the more you chase, the less you get.

So if you want to be happier, it may well make sense for you to forget about that desire. Instead, find things that you value, find things that mean something to you. Do those things for their own sake, because they’re meaningful and valuable – and you may find, as a pleasant side-effect, that you’ve become happier.

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