John Stuart Mill, who lived from 1806 to 1873, is credited with having the highest IQ of anyone who ever lived. So most of us might do well to ponder his words about Happiness:
“Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness: on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself the ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.”
Interesting isn’t it? We can’t ever really find true happiness unless we fix our minds on something other than our own happiness! It is when we do something for its own sake, for the sheer pursuit of excellence, that we can approach that intangible happiness we seek. Through helping others and seeking to improve the lot of all mankind, we find our own happiness.
People very often believe that if only they could get their own ego needs met, then they would be happy. However, this is an illusion. To begin with, it focuses upon lack, i.e. what you do NOT have or are NOT. This kind of focus is not a source of happiness in that very moment. It focuses upon striving in the future to create that which you feel you lack NOW.
However, this is not a source of internal happiness, now or in the future. Finally, even if you do get what you were seeking, you find that your desires have expanded, so that you are no longer happy with what you have striven for, now that you actually have it! A focus upon self and one’s own needs, while seeming to make sense as a source of happiness, really does not deliver the goods. However, what John Stuart Mill’s quote is really saying is that we should try to be happy in the moment, in what we are doing right now, and do it to the best of our ability. It seems a paradox, but it is so very true.
Consider this, if you will. You can never really be unhappy, as long as you are focused on living in the present moment, in the NOW. Your feelings of unhappiness only really emerge from regrets and fears regarding the past or the future. However, if you focus upon NOW, it is not really possible to be unhappy. Eckhart Tolle is the leading modern exponent of this concept, and is highly recommended, if you wish to study this concept in depth.
On a metaphysical spiritual level, we might say that there is no “other” anyhow, but rather all of us are manifestations of the same one Spirit. Hence, it makes no sense for “me” to be happy all by myself, if I am not also looking out to help others too. By focusing on “my” happiness, I emphasize my own separateness, my own illusion of division from other beings. The extreme example of this behavior is the Saddam Hussein mentality – a person who creates an enormous repressive structure to subordinate an entire nation, just so that he can feel better about himself. Yet, deep down, he never really does.
Most of us do something a bit like this, but obviously to a very much lesser degree. We fill our lives with “stuff” we can buy, strange career ambitions, throw in a spouse or two and a couple of kids, and create a huge edifice that is supposed to make us happy. Then, we sit back and wonder why it didn’t! You can reach material satisfaction without achieving true happiness. On the other hand, you can also be very poor and be happy. It all depends upon how you have trained your mind to BE in the present moment.
Helping others achieve happiness has a tendency to reinforce the universal aspect of your existence, and reduce the ego-centered “Me First” mentality. The Bodhisattva ideal in Tibetan Buddhism is an interesting example. Here, extremely spiritually advanced beings, having escaped from the trap of worldly rebirth and suffering, and on the verge of passing into the transcendent bliss of Enlightenment, refrain from doing so and instead vow to remain for many eons to help countless other suffering beings reach the level they have achieved themselves. The idea here is the same: nobody wins unless everybody wins.
In the final analysis, the division between self and other is an illusion. The Bodhisattva ideal demonstrates this very forcibly. Mill also stresses that happiness is largely a by-product. It is not an end in itself. Hence, those who “pursue” happiness never find it. Instead, you find happiness by being absorbed in a worthwhile pursuit – making it an end in itself – rather than a means to an end. Many people enter a lucrative profession as a means to make a lot of money, and not because the profession fascinates them that much in itself. Unless they DO find a passion within the profession, they may end up wealthy, but extremely unhappy with their lives, hating every minute of their job and feeling the sense of pointlessness that comes from having wasted life. This might even be you!
Of what use is all the money then? Contrarily, those people who truly excel in a profession, financially lucrative or otherwise, are those people who do it because they make an end of it in itself. Often, they would do it even if there was no financial reward at all. You can find a way to happiness by exploring those things you love to do and immerse yourself in them to the extent that hours may pass without you noticing it. Do those things MORE. You can also find happiness by helping others be happy. This is actually one major secret to financial wealth as well, although few people know it. Give other people what they want, and they will give you what YOU want!
In conclusion, the message is that in order to be happy, you have to be less involved in your own happiness and more involved in the happiness of other beings. Make others happy and you become happy as a result. Involve yourself totally. Throw yourself into what you are doing in life, and happiness will result. If you are compromising, i.e. doing something you hate as a means to an end so that good will result one fine day, STOP! Begin to do more of what you love NOW and let that grow until it fills your life. Then happiness will be yours, and you will be better able to bring happiness to the world.