How often do you turn inward to discover the source of happiness?

Today is March 9 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you turn inward to discover the source of happiness?” Are you pursuing happiness or pursuing tasks, projects, and relationships that have happiness as a byproduct?


Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard noted “A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him.”


Happiness is indeed a choice. We choose to be happy. But we also choose to identify the source of our happiness. When we want to be happy, we look for strong positive emotions like joy, enthusiasm, and excitement. Unfortunately, research shows that this isn’t the best path to happiness.


According to multiple studies, the more value people placed on happiness, the less happy they became. For example, research led by the psychologist Ed Diener reveals that happiness is driven by the frequency, not the intensity, of positive emotions. When we aim for intense positive emotions, we evaluate our experiences against a higher standard, which makes it easier to be disappointed.


Additionally, Iris, Mauss and her colleagues found that when people were explicitly searching for happiness, they experienced less joy in watching a figure skater win a gold medal. They were disappointed that the event wasn’t even more jubilating. And even if they themselves had won the gold medal, it probably wouldn’t have helped. Studies indicate that an intense positive experience leads us to frame ordinary experiences as less positive. Once you’ve landed a gold medal or won the lottery, it’s hard to take pleasure in finding a great parking spot or winning a video game.


If you want to experience joy or meaning, you need to, as Kierkegaard suggested, look inward in order to shift your attention away from happiness and toward projects and relationships that bring joy and meaning as byproducts. This introspection can offer opportunities for growth as you consider, or perhaps reconsider, how you define happiness.

The Buddhist collection of thoughts entitled Mahaprajnaparamita Shastra noted “When one seeks an object of desire, one suffers. When one gets an object of desire, one fears losing it. When one loses an object of desire, one is greatly troubled. At each and every point, there is no joy.”

If you are aware of this as you consider happiness you can better engage with a mindfulness that could offer a much needed calm amidst the chaos. How often do you turn inward to discover the source of happiness?