How do you envisage the pursuit of happiness?
For many, it is a relentless journey, and the more you put in, the more you get out. Just consider the following episode from Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling inspirational memoir Eat, Pray, Love, in which she recounts some advice from her Guru. “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it,” she writes. “You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment.”
While this kind of attitude may work for some, the latest scientific research suggests that it can also seriously backfire for many people – leading, for instance, to feelings of stress, loneliness, and personal failure. According to this view, happiness is best seen as kind of timid bird: the harder you strive to catch it, the further it flies away.