Most would agree that human beings seem to be hardwired to seek happiness. It appears to be an innate impulse (although in reality, it is impossible to say whether the first humans displayed this tendency). Whether instinctual or acquired, the pursuit of happiness is practically universal among humans of the modern era. In today's world, almost everything we do is in some way motivated by our desire to lead lives that are both happy and fulfilled.
Unfortunately, for many of us, happiness can be quite elusive. This is especially true in Western cultures. Modern Western societies tend to be obsessed with doing, achieving, and posessing. We look for happiness in external activties, concrete achievements, and material posessions. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that living this way does not make people happy. Instead, it breeds malaise, discontent, and chronic feelings of restlessness.
Restlessness is propelled by a desire to be somewhere other than here, doing something other than the activity in which you are currently engaged. It is a state characterized by unease and agitation.
When people seek happiness from external sources, restlessness is the inevitable result. When we believe happiness exists out there in the world then that is where we search for it. We identify something we think will bring happiness and we set about trying to achieve or obtain it. When we get it, we initially experience intense feelings of pride, satisfaction, and pleasure. "Now," we say to ourselves. "Now I can be happy."
Unfortunately, our pleasure is always short-lived. Once the novelty wears off, we realize that we feel no differently than we did before. The thing we wanted so badly has not brought us happiness. We feel restless, so we begin to search for something else we believe will make us happy. The cycle continues.
Restlessness is not a particularly comfortable feelilng, especially when it becomes a daily presence in our lives. The natural reaction to something unpleasant is to try to get rid of it. Restlessness is alleviated by movement. We seek happiness, come up short, and move on to look for it somewhere else. Perhaps we leave our spouse or begin a new romance. Maybe we quit our job, sell our home, or move to a new city. Or we might get a new haircut, buy a new wardrobe, and adopt a new look. We're restless so we move, however we choose to do it.
We look outside of ourselves for happiness; we will never find it there and so will always feel restless. All humans have the drive to seek happiness; our restlessness spurs us to continue on this quest.
Our quest becomes much easier if we look in the right place. Happiness comes from within...
Of course that's a bit cliche', is it not? It's all well and good to say that happiness comes from within, but what does that mean exactly?
The first thing we have to do is stop moving. In her article "Boredom - The Gateway to Peace," Joan Brooks explains that we must learn to do nothing. Westerners tend to feel compelled to always be doing something. If we remain idle for too long, we begin thinking about all the things we could, should, or would rather be doing. There is no stillness because we don't pause long enough for our minds and our bodies to settle. As soon as we feel bored or restless, we're on the go again. Brooks suggests that instead of bolting into action when restlessness arises, we "need to slow down and find some peace and serenity." This will undoubtedly be quite difficult to do, at least initially. Over time, however, we learn to sit with our feelings, without trying to change them. Eventually, we learn to let go, relax, and just be.