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Abandon The Pursuit of Happiness: Pursue Resilience Instead

September 22nd 2017

Some thought-provoking insights from Angela Scott M.Ed.

Abandon Happiness: Pursue Resilience Instead

I have come to understand that the pursuit of happiness is an illusion and one which we should all abandon immediately for the good of our mental and physical health. Ouch, right?

It may surprise you to learn that this sentiment comes from a professional speaker and life coach who also happens to be an adherent of positive psychology. Yup. It’s true.

So, how can I think this way? Because we have become a society that not only cannot effectively manage conflict (Note: the predominant style of conflict resolution in North America is avoidant, and not aggressive as many of us presume) but we’re also a population who is increasingly unable to deal with unpleasantness in any form. In our pursuit of happiness we have decided that we shouldn’t have to experience anything less than optimal whether it’s a meal, a movie, a paint color or a life partner. There’s apps for that, you know. We believe that happiness is a state that, to be truly experienced, must remain pretty much constant.

And so, unlike our ancestors who knew true hardship and deprivation, in the modern era we use information to ensure that we never have to misstep, never have to go without. Getting what we want has never been easier, but make no mistake -- this kind of ease comes at a price.

Overloaded with information and devoid of effective coping skills, how are we supposed to confront tragedy or trauma, let alone disappointment, when it occurs? How do we face inevitable moments of disappointment when we should be able to get what we want, but can’t? Even worse, what do we do when we get everything we want and we still don’t feel happy? These are important existential concerns and ones which my professional practice has centered around for the past decade.

But, after many years of helping clients achieve ambitious goals and impossible dreams, I observed that despite their accomplishments, none of them reported feeling truly happy afterward. After a goal was realized, a new one was manufactured. This caused me to consider that maybe happiness wasn’t where it was at – because getting what we want doesn’t actually produce sustainable happiness -- but that maybe resilience was the worthy pursuit: the ability to achieve mental, emotional and physical equilibrium in times of stress or ease. Basically, learning to face the bad times, and appreciate the good times for however long either of them lasted.

I had already been a Vipassana meditator when I made the decision to pursue mindfulness training to augment my coaching and counseling. For the clients I serve, I can tell you it has made a profound difference in their reported quality of life.

More than intentionally observing your breath for a few moments each day, mindfulness training can help you become more focused and present in your life, as well as help you understand the relationship that exists between your thoughts, your mood, and the sensations and pains in your body.

This type of training allows you to take control of your mind and body and learn to co-exist with stressful life circumstances instead of trying to avoid them. We can’t stop conflict and tragedy from occurring, but we can learn to cultivate resilience so that stress and trauma are seen as bumps in the road that can be sidestepped or processed more effectively, instead of terrifying and paralyzing events that cause us to shut down or adopt maladaptive coping methods (drinking, shopping, overeating).

In the end, you may not be able to report that you are happy – at least by its common definition – but you might find something far more profound and life-affirming: peace. The peace that comes from living with things as they are and not forever as you wish them to be.

Angela Scott, M.Ed. is an existential therapist and mindfulness coach in private practice. She is based in London, Ontario, and works with clients in person or via phone. If you’re looking for a better way of living, reach out: www.procrastenough.com


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