Petkov: Stop defining what causes happiness

Petkov: Stop defining what causes happiness

Antonio Petkov, Columnist

Ernest Hemingway once remarked, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”

This certainly made an impression on me, especially given my subconscious tendency to associate my grades with my intelligence, my intelligence with my self-worth and my self-worth with my happiness.  I will admit to this; I know I am not the only one. Although my conscious self disagrees with my subconscious self, the subconscious still hasn’t relinquished its illogical grasp on my emotions. This statement is especially relevant here; sometimes we need to combat our tendency to overanalyze, compartmentalize and plan in order to be happy and feel human.

What constitutes your sense of self-worth? What defines whether you are happy on a given day? For many of us, the answer is success in a chosen field or, put more simply, success in school. That’s not really the way it’s supposed to be though. If you base your happiness on such a concrete and quantifiable set of parameters, it will be short-lived indeed, and this way of thinking will inexorably lead you to an existential crisis. The reason behind this is that all tangible and measurable things can be taken away from us. Moreover, if they are quantifiable, they lend themselves to comparison with others, which only exacerbates the problem.

Happiness is something that you need to define for yourself, just as your desires are unique to you alone.  The mere definition of happiness, let alone its acquisition, has the potential to take an entire lifetime. Obviously it is a question of trial and error — and time. It is also a question of discovering what you want, in order to define the meaning of happiness for yourself and then set about attaining it.  As you can see, this is a complex process with no clear-cut set of instructions.

Sometimes, we must fail in order to ultimately be happy.  Failure takes us out of ourselves and forces us to look at the big picture, the grand scheme of things, the canvas of life that has been obscured by the minutiae of our everyday lives. It’s a wake-up call that helps us realize that the things which we thought would turn our world upside down actually don’t, and life continues. Sometimes it shows us that what we’ve been chasing has been at our heels the whole time. Failing is perfectly acceptable (as long as you don’t make a conscious choice to do so and fall into bad habits), because happiness, and even success, is not linear. Their attainment is unpredictable and always uncertain.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to achieving happiness however, is an obsession with attaining it.  Viktor Frankl proclaimed that “success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.” We should not obsess over doing things for the sake of obtaining something, whether it be money, a grade or even happiness.  We should do them for their sake alone.  We should discover what is meaningful to us and try to be faithful to a worthy purpose. Oftentimes, the rest will take care of itself.

Antonio Petkov is a McCormick freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].