We often look at humility and consider how it can’t be acquired, because the very effort to acquire humility will be the result of an arrogant indulgence. Then there is the cliché quoted by many that the profession of humility is in itself arrogance, which has much truth in it. What isn’t so obvious though is that the pursuit of humility is equally arrogant. Humility is similar to happiness. It can’t be acquired on its own, but is in fact the outcome of something else. That may sound absurd, but in reality, it’s not the act of trying to be of a happy disposition that makes us happy, but rather the satisfying outcomes of various activities and choices that leads to a state of happiness.
Humility is something that we witness in others, but the moment we think of ourselves as humble, or we do something with the intention of being humble, then the underlying motivation for that would be that we’re considering ourselves to be pious or good, which is arrogance. So when you see someone that appears to be humble, consider that maybe their action is driven by shyness, insecurity, a lack of confidence, or many other attributes that undermine our ability to achieve our full potential, but because we can’t see what their motivation is to do what they do, we assume they’re humble.
However, the pursuit of happiness within this context is not tainted in the same way that a pursuit of humility is. What we witness as humility is often not an intended humility on the part of the person that we’re observing. More often than not, humility is a result of insecurity, shame, modesty, shyness, embarrassment, etc. In other words, when someone is in a situation where they seem overwhelmed by the gravity of it, or the significance of it relative to their own stature, their act or response may appear humble even though the motivation behind it may be fear or disillusionment, or a feeling of being dis-empowered or overwhelmed.
With happiness, the same principles apply. We often hear of people that appeared to be happy and carefree, only to hear of their suicide a few days later. Their appearance of happiness may have been a choice, but it obviously had no substance. This, along with a few other life experiences prompted me to reflect on the truth behind the statement that if we choose to be happy, we will be, and that no one can stop us from being so. This is dangerously false. It leads many to believe that simply making the choice is sufficient. It’s not. It never has been. Happiness has always been a state that was achieved when other aspects of my life were in line with my needs or expectations. Happiness was never something I experienced independent of those experiences.
Unsurprisingly, the current approach to the ‘pursuit of happyness’ is in line with the prevalent mentality that was spawned by ‘The Secret’. I have never seen so many delusional people in my life. People that walk around believing that being positive yields positive results. It doesn’t. If it did, it would mean that the proverbial bull would never charge at you if you were a vegetarian. The logic simply does not add up. However, take that same positive attitude and couple it with a focus on opportunities and beneficial outcomes to drive your actions, and suddenly you have a recipe that will allow you to take control of how you respond to situations, rather than how you simply perceive them.
It may sound like a play on words, but it really isn’t. I engage with people on a daily basis that have this false belief that they can choose to be happy or sad. They can’t. How many times haven’t you tried to be sad or grumpy when someone came along, or something unexpected happened that put an instant and sincere smile on your face? This further cements my argument that happiness is a state that is achieved as a result of our actions in line with our desires or needs, and is most certainly not simply a choice we make. The moment we are compelled, or at least feel compelled to act contrary to our value system or our ethics, that state of happiness eludes us, and instead, is replaced by a state of anxiety and stress.
For the same reason, a poor man can find contentment in his life, while a man of excessive wealth will find it impossible to have a peaceful night’s sleep.