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The Pursuit of Happiness, or the Happiness of Pursuit?

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Have you ever evaluated your life to work out which 'camp' you belong in?

So, I did.

It wasn't a straightforward realisation either. It took a long time for me to digest and dissect this question. For as long as I can remember, including childhood; actually especially childhood, it was the pursuit of happiness that I was concerned with. Speaking from my own experiences, I think children in Western society are taught to have this focus. To chase, to aspire and to consistently be trying for better, and for more.

I think about the way the Western education system is currently. It varies between countries but essentially, it's categorised by a few different schools and broken up into cohorts of years that are age dependent. Students start at the the lowest year group and when they reach a certain age, they climb the curriculum ladder. For children in the UK, during their time in primary years they must sit examinations, then they are regularly assessed (academically- and that's an important observation to note) until they are around sixteen, when they are in their final year of secondary education and 'it's make or break'- What a

load of ...! Their next stage of compulsory education is reliant on the results they attain.

Two years prior to this, it is mandatory that students 'choose' their options from a list of non compulsory subjects. This means, that children around the ages of fourteen are led to believe that the choices they make for these qualifications will dictate the rest of their life. I remember this feeling, and in my brief spell as an educator I watched this play out.

I call myself an educator in this role, because I believe I was. I wasn't a 'teacher.' I was appointed as a pastoral counselor. I was full time and did cover lessons when needed, but didn't have any formal classroom time with my students. My focus was on their social attainment. Something which wasn't measured, and subsequently meant it was largely underestimated in child development in the education system.

I was acutely aware by that point that the qualifications the students were working towards were not the beginning or end of their academic or professional career, and they still had just as many opportunities available to them in later life if for some reason they didn't achieve what they had hoped. Despite all this, however, I was still passively observing their constant strive. By the time they left secondary school, they will have spent five years working towards these qualification results. Not to mention the focus on the 'practice' they were given during their previous primary education when they were no older than eleven.

With this in mind, I am left thinking that there is very little hope not to view life as one hurdle after another in order to achieve a greater sense of happiness. This is called destination addiction. The idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job, or with the next partner. This leads to us feeling like we must always search and strive. Just like we did when we were at school. The problem with this is that until we give up on the idea that happiness is elsewhere, it will never be where we are right now.

I'd like to say that I worked this out as a child. I didn't. I'd also like to say that during my time in the secondary school, I taught this truth to my students and I reassured them adequately that doing their best and cultivating a growth mindset will put them on the path to presence and happiness. I didn't. This is because, even then, even after I had completed my time in the academic arena, I was still striving. I was still searching for my next destination in which my happiness lived.

It wasn't until I experienced total burnout that I began to realise what this 'living' thing is all about. I had to feel totally broken before I could start seeing things with perspective and clarity.

Sure, ambition is great. It's better than great. It's fire. Focus is also awesome. I'm not saying people should stop. Having a sense of purpose is so incredibly important for our own mental health and having goals feels good. But, its the happiness in the pursuit of the things we want for ourselves which is the essence. It's a nuance that is silent. It's a tiny shift in perspective that makes the most monumental difference to the lives we lead and the relationships we have with the people in our lives.

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