We have become a culture concerned with happiness. If you are not happy with your job you are encouraged to look for a new one. If you are not happy with your relationships you are encouraged to move on. If you are not happy with your home, your car, or any number of things you are encouraged to change them in order to become more happy. Advertisements are based on the idea that some new product will make you happier, assuming of course that everyone’s goal is to be just a little bit happier.
And happiness is certainly a good thing. If you are consistently making decisions that make you less and less happy you should probably change some things. Yet the problem is that constantly checking the barometer of internal happiness is a self-defeating exercise. The more we are concerned with our happiness, the less happy we often become. “Am I unhappy?” followed by “how could I become a little more happy” becomes our obsession. And with no clear end goal, this becomes an ultramarathon we cannot win. Imagine running a marathon. Every 10 seconds or so contemplating “Are my legs tired or hurting?” Of course the answer is going to be yes at some point. And constantly thinking about that pain is going to amplify the perception of the discomfort.
One area of our lives in which this problem has become prominent is in romantic relationships. The search for a future partner has become, in many ways, like looking for a new television or car. The argument in favor being that, because we can often get a superior television or car by comparative shopping, the same should be true for a partner or spouse. On the surface this seems like a great plan. However, consider what you do with your new television or car. You’re happy with it for a bit but as you use it consistently you ask yourself if it is better and you are happier. You notice that the blue-green ratio of the screen is off, and that it doesn’t quite fill out the space that you were hoping it would. You realize the seat heaters only warm your butt and not the lower back like you were hoping they would. Worst of all you start to hear a squeak in the dashboard. Asking these questions you forget about all of the things that are great and begin making a list of things you will make sure the next television or car has. With a television or car this system is less than ideal but clearly not disastrous.
However, t is disastrous in our relationships to constantly be thinking “Is this making me happy? What do I dislike about this person?” Now occasionally sitting down and discussing your relationship is good, but constant contemplation of happiness and unhappiness is toxic. Unlike the car or the television, building something great together is the goal, not momentary happiness. Unlike a car or television you are not looking for someone to replace after a few years with a newer model. You are looking for a partner, a friend, and someone to build something great with. And incidentally, true happiness is often found in this, and not in the frenetic search for someone to please you in the moment.