“I just want to be happy.”
“I just want my kids to be happy.”
“I wish I were happier.”
Lately, it seems I hear these comments often. But is happiness really the best goal in life? Looking back, some of the most significant and formative moments in my life were not necessarily happy. The who that I am has not emerged solely from happy times.
After a very complex and risky pregnancy, our triplets were born healthy. It was a glorious time. My wife and I were extraordinarily grateful and relieved. Some days, we were happy. But mostly — well, I’ll speak for myself — I was flat out, stretched, running on empty, and exhausted trying to meet the needs of three premature children. I embraced my role as father as my primary life’s work. I continue to relish that role and find it enormously fulfilling. But being a father has not always made me happy.
When I eulogized my sister-in-law who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, I was not happy. But I was never more alive, honoring my brother’s request and my sister-in-law’s memory. While fulfilling my duty as a loving brother, I was not happy.
Usually, the greatest highs in my professional life result from the most difficult circumstances, from challenges that are just beyond my skill set, that force me to rise to higher levels of expertise — knowing all the time that I could fail miserably. These are exhilarating moments but they are not always happy.
In conversation, friends are sometimes surprised and confused when I say that I don’t want my children to be happy all the time. But for me, it’s pretty clear. If they were happy all the time, they would not be living a rich life, fully engaged with the world around them.
Live life joyfully. Embrace happiness. Enjoy it whenever it graces you. But don’t make happiness your life’s goal.