Should We Even Strive To Live Life Happily?

To say the United States is obsessed with happiness is a wildly overstated fact of life. But in other countries — say, France — happiness isn’t the goal. That might sound crazy. In France, though, the people are better known for their rather drab demeanor. They have that reputation because they strive to live life in contentedness rather than joy. They understand that striving for something wholly unattainable can be draining. And happiness, whether we like it or not, is improbable for many people. 

Suffice it to say, living life to the fullest often hurts a ton.

A recent Washington Post article asked similar questions about the struggle to be happy, but framed it with an outright statement: “Our obsession with happiness is making our kids miserable.”

Where did that conclusion come from? A variety of psychologists, it turns out. You see, we’re told from a young age to “be happy.” We’ve been told innumerable times that how we feel each day is a “choice.” But that’s nonsense. How we feel is determined by a complex combination of factors including environment and biology. Chemicals in the brain have more to do with feelings than anyone’s choice. 

The Post’s author, Dr. Andrea Bonior, writes: “Teach your kids that their thoughts don’t define them….Encourage your children to observe their thoughts with curiosity rather than fear, in a nonjudgmental way rather than with shame. Establish that not only is a thought not automatically true, but it’s not automatically ‘you.’ Encourage labeling distressing thoughts like ‘I’m having the thought no one likes me’ rather than ‘No one likes me,’ which helps your child separate from them.”

And isn’t that the trick? We’re often taught that our thoughts and feelings show us who we are — and when others have shown outward disapproval of people who turn similar thoughts into everyday actions, we feel different or as if we would be unwanted if we turned them into actions too. Ask anyone in the LGBTQ communit if that’s true, for example!