On Happiness

The other day, I read this passage on Pinterest (where else?), and it has stuck with me…

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.

—Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life

I really love that. Honestly, what a relief.

P.S. Busted. Twice.

  1. Eleanor Davis says...

    YES! Acknowledging and sitting with feelings of sadness, anger, grief, stress, fear etc is so important and so underrated in our society.

  2. Just beautiful. I have a three year old and watching her struggle through tantrums has really opened my eyes to the fact that we are no t born happy and smiling. Even at the earliest age we experience sadness and learn through it.

  3. elise says...

    Beautiful photo of you and your baby!

    I enjoyed this quote and completely agree – our push to be happy all the time limits us from experiencing the full range of our emotions. We do this with children all the time – when they cry from disappointment or frustration or whatever uncomfortable emotion they’re experiencing, we try to distract them. They don’t get used to those less pleasant emotions and I worry won’t be able to handle them as they get older.

  4. Phyllis Koenig says...

    i LOVE this – every word. it’s the only truth i know and can understand. and it’s taken a lifetime of fighting the “come on!!! smile!!!” “thing” – this just sings music to my soul finally. thank you for posting. xo

  5. I’ve never heard of the things that have made me happy, but I have definitely used the 5 minute gratitude log. I know what the idea of keep track of what’s making you happy, because usually it’s better to keep track of what makes you feel positive, over what makes you negative. Happiness, isn’t what makes us learn, but keeping a positive mindset is super important. This post definitely made me think about a few things xx


  6. Dani says...

    My counselor has always suggested replacing the word “happiness” with “gratefulness.” Instead of listing the things that make me happy, I list the things I am grateful for. It’s been life-changing.

  7. Rebecca says...

    I think happiness is overrated. I think what we should strive for is feeling content. Contentment is a much more realistic and attainable goal. It allows for feelings of great joy and of deep sorrow.

  8. Lindsay says...

    Oh man, I needed this today. So glad I stumbled on this post!

  9. Love the post and utterly agree…

    “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  10. gosh, i need this quote framed in every room i walk into. thank you for this.


  11. Clare says...

    gosh, i’m so glad i found your site!! <3

  12. Love it and such good timing! Last month just ended up being pretty rough in several parts of my life and I told my fiance that yesterday marked my second day of feeling “whole again.” I don’t utilize that term and would normally replace it with happy but somehow whole does feel more right.

  13. Indeed! Love this post. Try not to be afraid of happiness when it comes though. That’s an interesting lesson to learn as well. Feel the pain, then let the light in a little.

  14. I agree, wholeheartedly. We spend all our time trying to lead happy lives that we miss living altogether. Why can’t we just enjoy the moment? That’s what I strive to do, not think, just live. That makes me happy.

  15. Balance is the key. Sometimes you need to work at happiness so sadness doesn’t become the default. Wholeness is a great concept, thanks for sharing

  16. This was much needed… Thank you, Joanna! Life feels that much lighter now.

  17. This is EXACTLY what I need to read today. Your blog is brilliant. While, I can’t totally relate to the mommy pieces yet. Hopefully one day, everything else is so HONEST- It isn’t just pretty pictures like most blogs but words + feelings + emotions. Bravo!

  18. This is EXACTLY what I need to read today. Your blog is brilliant. While, I can’t totally relate to the mommy pieces yet. Hopefully one day, everything else is so HONEST- It isn’t just pretty pictures like most blogs but words + feelings + emotions. Bravo!

  19. This idea of “wholeness” rather than “happiness” made us HAPPY, did it not? So, ultimately we are after happiness :)

  20. I agree–have you ever done the rose, bud, thorn exercise? You share something from the day that made you happy, one that didn’t, and a wish or aspiration for tomorrow. We did this as kids at summer camp, my husband uses it in his classroom, and we use it around the dinner table. Happiness is great because it’s relative.

  21. I couldn’t have read this post at a better time yet in my life, seriously. This was such a source of comfort. I’ve never even commented on a blog before and now look at me. Just wanted you to know. Thank you so much!

  22. I couldn’t have read this post at a better time. Literally ever. This was just a source of great comfort to me during a particular time of transition. Thank you so much!

  23. In one of the communities in India, we celebrate the auspicious beginning of the new year (which is celebrated in march as opposed to the western new year) where in we eat a particular sweet made of jaggery & neemtree flowers , a mix of bitter & sweet to symbolise that one has to accept the good & bad , the sweet & the unpleasant in the same way.
    I love the concept!