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Forget the Pursuit of Happiness—Try the Pursuit of “Happier”

Question: What is happiness?

Gretchen Rubin: What is happiness?  Now, I’m a lawyer, so I have happy memories of spending a semester in law school arguing about the definition of a contract.  And if anything, happiness is even a more elusive concept than that.  And so, I got into this and I quickly realized, I’m not going to spend my time trying to find a final definition to happiness.  It turns out there are more than 15 academic definitions of happiness.  And you can spend a lot of time arguing, is it about satisfaction, is it about peace, is it about bliss, is it momentary, is it long-term?  And I realized, it didn’t really matter.  What I wanted to think about was, could I be happier today, this week, this month?  How could I be happier?  Whether my happiness is not exactly the same thing as your happiness, it doesn’t really matter.  And what I’ve also noticed is the term happiness, or happy is intimidating to some people.  Some people deny that it’s even possible to be happy, or to achieve happiness.  Happiness sounds like this magical destination that you arrive at and then everything is sort of solved, or it’s different.  So, I think it’s easier to think about being happier.  Even people who deny the possibility of being happy, if you say do you think you could be happier?  They’ll say, “Yeah, I could be happier.”  Sometimes I think it’s easier to think about being happier, for what ever that means to you then worrying about what is happiness and what would life be if I finally achieved this ultimate happiness?

Question: Do we place too much emphasis on happiness in America?

Gretchen Rubin: Well, to me, I don’t agree with that.  I think that it’s natural and I think appropriate that when people have reached a certain level of prosperity and security, they turn their attention to higher things.  And we’re very fortunate that we’re in a position to worry about things like self-realization, or job satisfaction.  And I don’t think that it’s – I think it’s only right to think about those kinds of issues.  I don’t know what would be better spent thinking about.

Recorded on February 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

"Happiness" is a mythical destination that remains permanently out of reach. So why not just improve your life one step at a time?

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