Does Pursuing Happiness Make You Feel Depressed And Anxious?

by Bob Walsh

I just read a New York Times opinion piece by Ruth Whippman in which she states that so many Americans suffer from anxiety because they care too much about being happy. According to the WHO America is the country with the highest rate of anxiety in all the world – with about a third of the population suffering from anxiety.

Whippman speculates that it’s the pursuit of happiness which is the cause of much of this anxiety.

I don’t agree with her on much of what she wrote, and essentially it seems about how you define happiness, but she really nailed it with one sentence:

Happiness should be serendipitous, a by-product of a life well lived, and pursuing it in a vacuum doesn’t really work

So yes – the pursuit of happiness in a vacuum won’t help, and I think it’s the fact that this is so widespread today that’s making many people anxious or depressed.

You have to live life fully. You have to take on challenges. You have to get stuff done. Even the Dalai Lama is not just sitting in the mountains practicing happiness – he’s very involved in real life, in plenty of (real life) projects. After all, we’re here on this earth as physical beings, not just emotional beings.

Find the thing that defines you and fulfills you. It’s not always about having your dream job or running your dream business – you can have a fulfilling live even with an OK job if what truly fulfills you is family time, and that OK job gives you enough quality family time. Finding happiness isn’t as picture perfect as it looks in a Hollywood blockbuster.

So I think Whippman is wrong when she points her finger at the pursuit of happiness as the cause of anxiety.

It’s the naive pursuit of happiness, or as she so aptly put it, the pursuit of happiness it a vacuum, that can make you feel anxious, inadequate or depressed.

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