“There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” is a quote by the Buddha. I have not spoken to him in person (at least not to his 2,500 B.C. incarnation…) but what he probably meant is that happiness is not a goal that can be attained (for good). Rather, happiness is a consequence (or rather: byproduct) of doing certain things – and refraining from doing certain other things. This view opposes modern materialistic notions of life where we are repeatedly told something along the lines of “If you achieve X/if you manage to get Y – then you´ll be happy.”
Buddha´s quote is in line with other great thinkers of his time: Aristotle thought that eudaimonia (the “good life”, flourishing) was a byproduct of leading a virtuous life, where a virtue can be found right in the middle between two vices (e.g., courage lies between cowardice and imprudence). Confucius equally propagated leading a life guided by certain virtues. For instance, he formulated an early version of the Golden Rule that was made famous in the West by my compatriot Immanuel Kant.
The Science of Positive Psychology takes these sages at their word – and has gathered some empirical evidence on the issues. By way of example, happiness is a consequence of…
- … pursuing self-concordant goals – where self-concordant means that these goals overlap to a considerable degree with our innermost values and beliefs.
- … using our most developed character strengths frequently in our lives.
- … spending time and money in service of other people.
But if happiness is a way instead of a destination – I assume it´s also reasonable to ask: the way to what or where?
Typically, we ask ourselves what we have to do in order to be happy. But what if happiness is not the goal?
What if happiness were the input variable – not the outcome?
By now, we do know a lot about this way of looking at psychological well-being. For instance, happiness leads to …
- … more happiness. Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues find that happiness can trigger a kind of upward-spiral – where happiness sustains itself and even helps to build higher levels of happiness in the future (see: Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being).
- … better health and longevity (see: Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well‐Being Contributes to Health and Longevity).
- … success in different areas of life. Yes, you did read what you just read. Typically, people believe that happiness is a result of being successful. Instead, there is ample evidence that the opposite relationship is just as valid: e.g., happier people are more successful at work and earn more money on average (see: The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success?).
In order to start being happy right now, I suggest you (re-)visit this video…