Albert Schweitzer once quipped that “happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.”
Despite the apparent luster of achieving a predominantly positive state of mind, most Buddhist elders argue that the pursuit of happiness is a misguided goal—it’s fleeting and superficial. Yes, being happy might be healthy—but craving happiness is a slippery slope.
We cant deny the importance of happiness—but we also must consider that a well-lived life is more than just one in which you feel “up.” A meaningful life is best construed as a matrix that includes happiness, occasional sadness, a sense of purpose, and playfulness as well autonomy, mastery, and belonging.
While some people will rank high in happiness and social belonging, others will find they’ve attained a sense of mastery and achievement. This approach appreciates that not only do people differ in their happiness matrices—but they can shift in their own respective matrices from moment to moment.
For instance, your sense of autonomy might spike dramatically when, as a college freshman, you shift from living under your parents’ rules to the freedom of dorm life—and then plummet a decade later when you become a parent and must sacrifice even the ability to choose your hours of sleep. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that coeds have greater well-being than new parents. Rather, each group is experiencing a unique flavor of life and their individual choices.
Parsing the good life into a matrix is more than linguistic trickery; shifting toward a mixed-bag view of well-being opens more paths to achieving a personally desirable life. Enjoying success in even one area of the matrix can be a cause for celebration.
Peace and Love, Jim