I hear a lot of people say that they “should” be happy because they have a great life. I hear a lot of people say that other people “should” be happy because they have a great life.
We have this idea that a great life equals happiness.
But what goes into a great life?
I assume the standard answer would be wealth, a good marriage, good family, a career you enjoy and find meaningful, a nice house, the ability to travel or at least take time off. Maybe a good retirement, living somewhere you like, good transportation, friends and being heard would be important as well.
But look at all the people in the world who have these things and are still miserable. The most obvious would the rich and famous that populate our modern pantheon. People with such indescribable wealth that they have no concept of what things cost or are worth, people who live in a very tiny world because they can jump on a plane and go anywhere at any time. The rich and famous have houses that are little towns unto themselves, have already retired in many ways, and have a constant platform for voicing their ideas. Many of them have friends and family and engage in meaningful causes, and many of these same people seem to be miserable. You see this in their behavior and broken relationships and trips to hospitals for “exhaustion”. It doesn’t have to be the rich and famous either. Look at the wealthiest people you know and you find misery and unhappiness has a home among them as well.
Sure, everything mentioned above goes a long way toward making life easier, and there is nothing inherently wrong with wealth. The only people who glamorize being poor are those who have never been poor or who have some weird cosmic way of justifying the inequality that dominates our world.
The essential issue here is that things don’t make you happy. The externals in life cannot bring you joy or peace or contentment for very long because they aren’t ever really yours. They can be taken away at any moment by any number of things. A stock market crash can take your retirement, fire can take your home, another person can take your spouse. All the money, all the fame, all the friends, they can all be gone in an instant.
So what should we focus on if we want to be happy?
The things we can control.
How we respond to the things we cannot control.
The kind of people we are.
How we treat others.
How we engage with the present moment.
These are things no one can take away from us, so we can be secure in them.
Investing your happiness anywhere else is a recipe for suffering because you will always know it can be taken from you.