Is happiness all it's cracked to be?

The search for happiness seems to be the ultimate goal within our contemporary culture. The media and advertising industries continually tell us that being happy is all we need in our lives, and they are here to enable us in achieving it. From this perspective, happiness often seems commodified and packaged up. We just click a button on our computer and purchase happiness in one easy manoeuvre!

However, this process of "buying" happiness bypasses an existential dichotomy; which is that our longings for happiness are continually pitched against what we suffer as our inherent limitations. Another way of viewing this; is the difference between what we hope for and what our actual experience of the world is.

Psychotherapy, in this sense doesn’t promote the goal of therapy as being one of gaining happiness, but rather to embrace meaning instead. It is true, that we will experience moments of happiness. However, they are ephemeral and can neither be willed into existence or purchased.

So, what does it mean to embrace meaning in our lives? Having worked with clients over a 10-year period I have seen how the pursuit of happiness is often in reaction to suffering. It’s as though happiness is seen as the eternal panacea that will cure all of us our ills and allow us to finally rest in peace. However, the reality of this position is that it often becomes its own form of purgatory, as the anxiety and pressure to find a “way out” through this pursuit brings its own form of unhappiness.

Living a life that gives a place to meaning, also means healing the gap between what we long for and the limitations we face in ourselves and the world we live in. It means learning to live with our suffering. It is fair to say that on the whole suffering gets a bad press these days. However, if suffering didn’t exist we would remain unconscious, dependant and fearful. It is a truism that we only begin to ask the important questions about ourselves and our lives when we are in pain. It is only from these choices to embrace and wrestle with these questions that we can begin to create a life filled with meaning for ourselves.

The purpose of psychotherapy is then, not to remove suffering, but to move through it towards a mind capable of holding the polarity of painful opposites. This isn’t an easy journey for anyone to make, but I have worked with many clients in making this journey, and allowing them to embrace not only a deeper, more meaningful experience of the world, but also to embrace who they truly are, without the need to continue hiding from themselves.