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Why is Happiness So Elusive?

Most of the suffering in our lives is the result of an ignorant understanding in what we think will bring us happiness. Some would argue that all of our suffering is a result of this misunderstanding. So listen up, because this post will help you understand where happiness is and where it is not.

If happiness were in money, then every rich person should be thrilled and soaked in bliss, right? And yet we all know of rich people who are miserable.Then why do most of us continue pursuing money as though it does make us happy?  We all chase things that hold the promise of happiness – a new job, new car, new relationship, new vacation, new iPad. And when we get these things, how long does the thrill last? Within a few months at best, we start complaining about the very things that we thought would make us happy. “If only I could get a job”, soon becomes, “Is it Friday yet?”, which becomes, “I need a vacation!” which becomes, “I need to make more money to fund my vacations!”. Another classic example is this: “I would be happy if I could just get a partner”, soon becomes, “I would be soooo happy if I were married”, which becomes, “We would be happy if we had kids”, which turns into “We would be happy if we could get some time away from the kids”, and on the story goes.

It isn’t NEWS for any of us that happiness isn’t in things, nor is it news that all beings want happiness. The Dalai Lama says that happiness is a human right. If this is so, then why aren’t we all just damn giddy? If we all want to be happy, then why is it lost among so many of us?

For one thing, we keep ourselves miserable by strapping on the illusion-goggles that happiness is found in acquiring things. While we can’t deny that money, a car, a house, a promotion, a relationship, a great education and more can all make your life darn comfortable, we must acknowledge they also come with a certain amount of stress too, don’t they? You have to worry about managing your money, maintaining your car, paying your mortgage, keeping your marriage, raising the kids right, pleasing the boss, maintaining your health, and keeping up with the status quo.

Frustratingly, any happiness we find is short-lived, and it’s a damn rip-off when we consider all the energy it took us to acquire our momentary happiness. It isn’t long before we start thinking that we want a better job, a nicer car, an upgrade to our tech gadgets, a sweeter relationship. And very often, it is the case that we should change our life circumstances to improve our lives (that’s a separate topic). But in order to advance beyond our cycle of suffering, we must begin with understanding where we will and will not find happiness.

First, stop tricking yourself into believing that objects, relationships or people have the power to make you truly happy. Believing that our joy comes from objects sets us up for great disappointment. Embrace that they are impermanent and they will always change, whether we like it or not! Then, when things change, you will not be unhappy. Even if the new job or relationship are absolutely perfect and we swear that we are unalterably happy, it is only a matter of time before something happens that rearranges the whole picture: job responsibilities change, we get laid-off, etc.

Our relationships are fragile too. Not only are humans imperfect beings who are incapable of delivering you true happiness, but people also get sick, get old, die suddenly, or we outgrow each other. It may seem as if the joke is on us and that life is working against us. But that’s not the case either.

Recite this mantra over and over until you can accept it

The nature of everything is change.

If we can work in rhythm with this, we will succeed more often at finding happiness. But if our happiness is dependent upon things staying just as they are and never changing, then we are in for some very unhappy awakenings.

Second, develop a spiritual practice. It will help you develop the tools, skills, and insight to handle life’s challenges. A spiritual practice helps us avert much of our suffering simply because we learn to change our mental afflictions that promote pain and suffering.

It also helps us create a new context for understanding our lives, which results in deeper fulfillment with life. These qualities alone almost invariably translate to a happier life.

Pick any practice that appeals to you.

Every major religious tradition has the same basic moral underpinnings, and will lead you to a similar place of satisfaction and peace. If it does not, then you need to examine this and make adjustments. Many teachers, myself included, will caution you to choose a path that is time-tested. Choose something that people have validated through trial and error for a very long time. Many new spiritual paths on the market today are “young” and have not been rigorously tested over time. And whatever path you choose, you need to personally test it! Having faith in something does not mean “blind faith”, and we should not take the words and practices only at face-value. Test everything thoroughly to be sure that it is working for you.

Third, practice and study your chosen spiritual tradition. It can only help you when you use the spiritual tools you are given. This is also the hardest part because many of us are too lazy, too scared, or too arrogant to actually practice the tools and wisdom we receive. Yet practice is where the fruits of our labor ripen and help us to understand elusive happiness much more.

Please share your thoughts with us in the comments box below.

Why, do you think, is happiness elusive? Where do you think happiness is found? What spiritual practice are you pursuing for a happier life? 


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  • Wes

    Frances, this year began with a surprise visit to a Bikram Yoga studio when a friend who had purchased a ‘groupn’ decided she was not ready and talked me into buying the coupon on the last day of its use, 12/31/11. I say surprise because I did not really think anything I had heard would make this a good practice, in the long run, for me. Well, I bought the year ‘deal’ they offered to groupon users and have only missed one day so far this year, closing in on 80 days of practice for the year, I have a few days with 2 classes. The other surprise is the Course in Miracles; these 2 practices are adding joy, peace, strength, happiness, effort, concentration, and a sense of change to my life. On top of these, I am reading Earnest Holmes and the Science of Mind. I really enjoy your well written posts as well, of course, and remember how you always made us laugh in your classes!
    Thank you very much, keep up the good work!
    Your former student, Wes.

    • Frances Arnold

      Wow, Wes, you have set your sails and are on such a beautiful course! First, I am so happy that you’ve found Bikram yoga. I can see why it is a great fit for you! It’s a wonderful practice that serves so many people to free up their bodies and minds. I think that the heat and repetition helps with this, don’t you? You are braver than me – I can’t take the heat! =-) Also, I studied A Course In Miracles and Ernest Holmes years ago – they helped open the door for me on my spiritual path! They are beautiful practices.

      I’m so happy that you stay in touch with me. It means a lot, Wes! I’m thinking of organizing a reunion yoga class when I visit Reno this summer. It would be so lovely to reconnect with some of the incredible yogis in Reno. Would you be interested?


      • Wes

        Frances, thank you for your kind words and thoughts; it would indeed be wonderful to see you, so I hope you will let me know if you come to Reno this summer. How are you liking your new life? My guess is you are loving life and this makes it possible for you to do all these nice things you are doing? Keep up the good work, have fun, and I hope to see you sometime soon.

        • Frances Arnold

          Sweeeeet! I will keep you posted on the reunion developments! Life is super saucy in Seattle, although it’s not sunshiney like Reno. I’m loving the new blog life too. =-)

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