Purposeful pursuit of happiness

Kevin Crittenden


Among the unalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness always stuck in my mind like a song I couldn’t shake.

Although the political context in which the declaration was written was much different than the world I live in now, the phrase implies happiness is something always just out of reach.

But I like to think of happiness as the background noise of the universe — it’s always there, whether or not you can hear it.

What makes people happy? How do we measure happiness?

Research in psychology points to hugs, which release oxytocin, as a way of bringing more good feelings into the world by touch.

Dubbed “the happy molecule” by nueroeconomist Paul Zak, this little chemical is responsible for the feeling of love that sustains romantic relationships and familial bonds.

So, then more hugs equals more happy. But people are certainly more complex than that. What about money? Fame? Achievement? Aren’t these the things that our culture points us towards?

Illustration by Liz Coffee
Illustration by Liz Coffee

Perhaps. But I doubt Donald Trump’s success has bought him a lasting sense of high spirits.

Everyone seems to be chasing the big happy as if it were a trophy animal to be stalked, killed and mounted on the wall, a possession to proudly display.

I’m skeptical about the idea that happiness is something that needs to be hunted like some emotional white whale, much less something to own. A spontaneous sense of joy can spring from activities that pull us into the moment.

Anything that gives a sense of flow is usually accompanied by euphoria.

There’s been talk about being “in the zone,” or in sports, “going beast mode.” Flow is people doing what they do best and losing a sense of time in total immersion with the task at hand.

All concerns with past or future dissolve. Consciousness sets sail like an intergalactic yacht, packed with musically-gifted aliens and fun, harmless herbs to share. OK, maybe that’s just my happy place.

If any of what I put down into words is worth reading, it’s because flow happened. Good writing carries the experience for readers enjoy.

Whether it’s writing, athletic skill or video games, the merging of action and awareness makes flow a pathway to felicity.

Besides, I know I’ve caught up to happiness before, even if writing this column only took me to a galaxy far, far away for a flash.

Kevin Crittenden can be reached at [email protected] or @kevlodius on Twitter.