Permanent Happiness is an Illusion

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If someone were to tell you “I’m so sad, I’m going to be sad for the rest of my life,” or “I’m so angry, I’m going to be angry for the rest of my life,” you would probably respond “I know it seems that way right now, but believe me, these feelings will pass. You’re caught up in your emotions right now but time has a way of healing wounds.”

We have no problem seeing how most emotions are transient, and we often counsel people to just wait it out on the unpleasant ones because we know their intensity will fade in time, but for some reason we don’t view happiness the same way, fooling ourselves into believing it can and should last forever if we can just create the right set of circumstances. But permanent happiness is an illusion. Just like every other emotion, it’s transitory in nature, evolutionarily designed to give us quick and decisive information about our environment. Expecting it to stay around forever is a recipe for disappointment, like trying to keep water from slipping through your fingers. Even if we were able to create the ideal set of circumstances for ourselves, our happiness would then depend on those circumstances never changing and as we all know change is inevitable.

The psychological solution is to make meaning and fulfillment the centerpieces of your life plan, in which case happiness will be a frequent and welcome visitor, an offshoot of your positive engagement with life and people rather than the thing in itself that you are chasing. There is no reason not to feel grateful when you’re happy, to be happy about being happy, but the state is going to pass in the same way that every emotional state passes. Save yourself the psychological distress of wondering why you’re not happy all the time by realizing that being happy all the time is literally impossible.