Happiness - Why is it so Elusive?

Chapter Extract

'There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.'

George Sand 1804 - 1876 (French novelist)


'True happiness (if understood)

Consists alone in doing good.'

William Somerville 1675 - 1742 (English gentleman)



   "Happiness is that Holy Grail, that elusive state of mind that is dangled in front of us like a carrot on a stick. To many it seems so near but always just out of reach. Many seek it, but so few find it. Why? Do we really know what happiness is, and if we found it would we recognise it? Let us investigate.

   If ‘One person’s meat is another’s poison’, then one person’s definition of happiness can literally be another’s idea of misery. Over the years I have asked numerous people if they were really happy, and waited for the usual reply of, ‘Oh yes – very.’ The reason for asking was because their eyes and attitude portrayed a different story. It’s quite intriguing when few people admit to being unhappy – even when they look miserable! Happiness shows in the eyes – they sparkle. On the other hand, honest ones admitted that they were not very happy and stated that they would be a lot happier:

  • If they could get out of debt.
  • If they could get a decent job.
  • If they could retire early.
  • If they could have children.
  • When the children leave home.
  • When they are married.
  • When the divorce is settled.
  • If they could put on a bit of weight.
  • If they could lose some weight.
  • If things were ‘different’.
  • If the ‘neighbours from hell’ would move.
  • If they weren’t so miserable and depressed.
  • If they could have better health.
  • If they could change their looks.
  • If they could stop worrying.
  • If they could have more time to themselves.
  • If they weren’t so lonely.
  • If they learnt to like themselves more.

   Such answers imply that their happiness is going to be ‘tomorrow’ and dependant on ‘if’ and ‘when’ and other external factors. There are those who rely on other people to bring them happiness, but in the long run it inevitably leads to disappointment or heartbreak when the relationships go sour or death intervenes. However happy people think they are, many imagine they could be happier – wondering, if the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence.

   Even advances in mechanical and electronic technology don’t seem to have brought about a corresponding increase in happiness. Perhaps it has made life too complicated, which is why so many people caught up in today’s hectic and stressful rat-race long for the more laid-back simple life – manana, as the Spanish say!

   Surveys show that we are less happy now than we were 30 years ago despite being twice as affluent. And statistics reveal that happiness declines from childhood and reaches an all time low at the age of about 38 before gradually rising again. Apparently, those over the age of 60 are the happiest. Perhaps being retired on a pension is the answer! Seriously, something is dreadfully wrong here if we have to be more than halfway through our life before we start to regain any resemblance of happiness. And if we are not happy, then life can seem monotonous or pointless.

   Indigenous tribes in remote parts of the world often seem far happier than most of the children and adults in the Western world. I feel it’s the simplicity of their lives and their closeness to Nature that makes this so. The emphasis also seems to be on family life and laughter. Which is probably why the 220,000 Melanesian islanders of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, were recently voted the happiest people in the world, despite their poverty – whilst Britain, one of the richest nations in the world, was not in the top 100.


   Observation reveals that the happiest people are those who ...."