Disneyland and Happiness
Recently my wife and I planned a vacation to Disneyland with our four kids. It’s something we’ve thought about for the past few years, but we wanted to wait until our children were at ages where we felt they would enjoy and appreciate it.
A few days after booking our trip, I shared our plans with my father. After hearing my excitement about our vacation, he shared the following counsel: “Don’t expect Disneyland to make you happy.”
I was a bit thrown off, while at the same time intrigued by his response. When I asked what he meant he said too often we expect outside influences to make us happy. A trip to Disneyland can certainly be fun, but only if you embrace and accept everything that comes with it. After the Disney magic evaporates you face the reality that the kids will likely whine when they get tired or hungry; lines will be long for rides you want to experience; and the weather may not be as perfect as you hoped for. Once reality sets in – how will you react? Do you expect Disneyland to make you happy or are you bringing happiness to Disneyland?
The acquisitions of things and happiness
His words made me think about how we view happiness. As humans I believe we have a knack for novelty. A change of pace can bring out the best in us. The desire for novelty helps us be inventive, solve problems, and be creative and entrepreneurial.
Just like anything else this desire for novelty requires guidance. After all, there’s always a shinier object that can catch our attention. While there’s nothing wrong with aspirations – in fact I’m a huge advocate of goal setting – I do believe one of the biggest mistakes we make is thinking that acquiring a certain outcome brings happiness. In short, we associate the acquisitions of things with achieving happiness or joy. While there’s no doubt that achievement, acquisition or accomplishment is satisfying, those feelings of satisfaction have an extremely short shelf life.
The acquisition of things doesn’t only apply to material objects. Certainly there is an issue with materialism in our world, but I believe there is a much more subtle form that most of us can be guilty of regardless of our socioeconomic status. I’m referring to the acquisition of non-material items. Examples of non-material acquisitions include believing that life would be happier if we made a certain amount of money, thereby acquiring a sense of financial stability or security. Another example includes believing we’ll have a more fulfilling or enjoyable career once we’re promoted to a certain position – causing us to seek the acquisitions of titles, prestige or recognition.
The acquisition of non-material things impacts our personal lives as well. Sometimes we believe something to the effect of, “If only my spouse/child/parent/sibling would change [fill in the blank with some sort of behavior] then family life would be happier.”
Where happiness is found
I’ve been thinking about why it is so easy for us to associate the acquisitions of things with happiness. I’ve also been thinking about why the initial pleasure or satisfaction when we acquire those things fades away quickly. My conclusion is best summarized by a quote I once heard:
“There’s a purpose in us far beyond living comfortably.”
In and of themselves there’s nothing wrong with added comfort or luxury. These things are a great blessing and can provide us with a greater appreciation for our predecessors who lived without the comfort of air conditioning, the endless supply of food we enjoy or the ease with which we can create warm water for cooking or bathing.
Is it possible however, that the things we tend to focus on – the financial security, the career building – have very little, if anything to do with happiness? That’s not to say these things shouldn’t be prioritized, but have they been prioritized correctly? Perhaps in a society that has become so focused on self, we’ve confused mere pleasure with happiness.
And maybe it is that fixation with ease and pleasure that has caused so many of us to ask ourselves whether or not happiness is real. If so where is it found? And if it’s more than a façade, then how does one attain it?
I’ve come to learn that happiness is not a destination. Happiness is found in the journey. Often times that means it’s found as we struggle. In my case with Disneyland, it was found as we saved money for the trip; in waking up early to leave for the airport; in calming our children as they got hungry or tired. It included every detail – the leisure filled moments as well as the difficult ones. As I think back on when I’ve been truly happy vs. when I haven’t, I think of a quote by the 19th century French Journalist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.”
May we be able to see things as they truly are and enjoy every moment of our journey in both work and in our personal lives. Only then will we gain appreciate the whole which is our life, instead of only enjoying small slivers and parts of the day, week or month. For those still wondering where happiness is found – it is found in the whole.