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Don’t pursue happiness, reach out and take it

I couldn’t believe it this morning when I fired up my computer, went online and read this article that started out:

Is this endless pursuit of happiness just making us all miserable? We've said our affirmations, drunk coffee out of cheesy mugs with nonsensical motivational quotes like, "CLIMB AS HIGH AS YOU CAN DREAM!", and bought millions of tomes on getting rich quick while thinking positive thoughts.

Therein lies the problem, people are not pursuing happiness; they are pursuing wealth and material things in the misguided belief that it will bring them happiness.

Even the term “Pursuit of Happiness,” is wrong in my view. To pursue something means it is constantly ahead, just out of reach. You do not pursue something you already have in your hand.

You choose happiness; in simple terms, choose to be happy. You can do that whatever your circumstances; there is always someone worse off than you are.

What is the alternative, that we hide in a hole, cover our heads and wait for someone else to deliver us happiness on a plate? If a person finds they have cancer, should they give up hope and die, or fight it?

So many desperately seek relationships, thinking, “If I could find the perfect relationship, then I will be happy.” Choose happiness first and a person is more likely to find new friends and relationships. People gravitate towards upbeat and happy individuals; who wants to hang around with someone negative and miserable?

In her new book, Bright-Sided: How Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America,  Barbara Ehrenreich calls positive thinking a "mass delusion." She argues that an unrelenting drive to train our brains to overlook problems and blame ourselves for failures has blinded us to inequality, incompetence, and stupidity.

I’ll buy that to a certain extent, it is the belief that all it takes is positive thinking to become immensely wealthy, that is wrong. Oprah Winfrey is criticized in a promo for the book, saying she is to blame for constantly pushing the positive thinking message.

Whether or not you are a fan of Ms. Winfrey is neither here nor there; no one can deny she came from a background of extreme poverty, and rose to the other extreme of success and wealth. She did it though sheer hard work and ambition, and what is ambition but positive thinking.

Oprah did not get where she is by negative thinking; it is only natural she pushes the positive thinking message. But if anyone thinks they can simply sit on their arse and think themselves wealthy, it is they who are delusional, not Oprah Winfrey.

I will never give up on keeping a positive outlook on life. I have never been happier than I am right now; I lead a simple existence, all my needs are fulfilled. What more can I ask for?

For a number of years I have held on to the belief that my life, my circumstances if you prefer, will constantly improve and never get worse. This has been the case.

I live my life by two simple rules:
1.) I try to hurt no one by thought, word or deed
2.) I take responsibility for my own happiness

Think about it, if everyone in the world lived by these two rules it would be the end to all problems. No one would get hurt, and everyone would be happy.

I would be interested to hear your views, but please don’t be like the article that prompted this piece, and put down positive thinking without putting forward an alternative better idea


Reader Comments (11)

I for one am for positive thinking. I believe that positive thinking makes the harder things more simple. That if you want to become something in life you have to believe you can as well think posiitve. The thing that gets me is how people say that positive thinking works when they probably do not do anything but sit and think without taking action.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJosten

There is no question in my belief that positive thinking is a powerful strategy towards living a meaningful and productive life. In order to maximize one's ability to live happy, beyond thinking positively, one must take positive action. This means acting upon your positive thoughts to achieve positive results. If you think it, act it and live it, you will likely become it. The great, Norman Vincent Peale, famous for, "The Power of Positive Thinking" was one of many who professed such logic and tied it to his faith. The great, Dave Moulton has touched many with the story of his life and how he came to discover that positive thought magnifies itself into positive results. There is a long, long list of people, some famous but mostly regular folks whose names would not be famous who simply work each day to keep themsleves thinking, acting and living positively. Each time this topic comes up, an idea is passed perhaps to someone seeking just such logic. This is in part the power of positive thinking, passing the word in hopes that another may advantage themselves of it and improve themselves in some way, towards living a more meaningful and productive life. Patience, Persistence and a Positive attitude are powerful indeed. Thanks as always, Dave for your wise words and postive thoughts!

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Hi Dave

Thank you for the terrific blog, I look forward to each post.

There is another perspective, positive thinking is really just more thinking, having little connection to reality (?!) than negative thinking. If the mind can be quieted from its constant evaluation and comparison, non-judgmental healthy functioning bubbles to the top. From my experience with meditation, this happens for a split second, if at all, but it gives a glimpse of the true beauty of the world, positive and negative included.

I've spent a good portion of my life seeing the world in a very pessimistic and negative way. The breaking point was a tour of duty in Iraq where I was certain I wasn't going to make it out alive. I sold all of my possessions and made ready for the end.

It didn't happen.

Back in the world I found meditation. It's not always easy, but it at times it can be as calming as a good 30 mile blow-out.

Best wishes always.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbill t

You hit it on the head. Happiness is a choice. I choose to be happy. Sometimes (well, a lot of times) things just suck but if I wait until everything is in perfect array to be happy I might have to wait a long time. So I am happy every moment.

Keep up the good work. I really enjoy your blog.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJerry Somdahl

Pursuit is the thing. Contentment and satisfaction with everything is the opposite.
Not once can I recall ever thinking "I'm in the best shape I ever want to be in" nor "I have earned enough money now".
Bob Fosse said after filming his masterpiece "All That Jazz" that it was the culmination of his life's work, and he would be happy to die. He did shortly after.
Did evolution stop at a certain point of achievement? Do bicycle companies?
The framers of our Declaration of Independence were very prescient when they included the succinctly worded inalienable right Pursuit of Happiness.
The road of life is an endless horizon. May it always rise up to meet you...

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Well said: "You choose happiness; in simple terms, choose to be happy. You can do that whatever your circumstances;"

That's what Paul wrote 2000 years ago, and he provided insight into how to actually do that - to "learn the secret of being content in any and every situation"

For more, see: http://amzn.com/144218776X

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKeith

Great post Dave and some great comments. I could not agree more. I'm not sure what "happiness" actually is. I prefer contentment; being satisfied with what you have. This does not mean that we should lead a desultory life. Rather by not being driven by greed and envy, we can more easily walk our own path of accomplishment.
Too often I find myself caught up in negative thoughts; reasons for why I cannot get something done or acocmplish a specific thing. I find tht if I turn off the television and spend more time on the bicycle, or the skate skis, or at yoga, then these thoughts disappear.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

I'm finding that the more I think positively, the better I feel. And the more positive people tend to surround me.

Great couple of articles!!

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarla Gnarla

To support the positive thinking side, I enjoyed reading "The Biology of Belief" by Bruce Lipton, PhD. Dr. Lipton discussed the potential celluar changes and/or response to our nervous system's stimuli to 'beliefs'. The placebo effect is a great example of the results of positive thinking. However, as I try to live life, 'everything in moderation (except biking)'....we need to be positive AND realistic!

October 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBiker55

Wonderful post. I'll be thinking about this a lot today. And I agree completely that a positive outlook can make all the difference. Here’s some evidence — http://www.ahamoment.com/vote/lynn — a short video about the aha moment of one woman that turned her life around for the better. If you like it, click and vote for it and it might wind up a tv commercial.


October 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJack

So many desperately seek relationships, thinking, “If I could find the perfect relationship, then I will be happy.”

I think that adequately describes the way I thought. For me, that relationship centered on another person. For others, it's Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed, or it's not a person or a god, it's sex, drugs, rock 'n roll or even bicycles.

Many people seek relationships because we want to connect with something beyond ourselves, to transcend ourselves. The realization, conscious or unconscious, that we live in an uncaring universe is profoundly disturbing, and we try to resist that reality.

October 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDave Wyman
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