Yaroslav Shuraev

You Can’t ‘Self-Help’ Your Way Into Being Happy

In the age of self-help books, how-to articles, and countless essays on the subject, happiness and its pursuit have never been more accessible to us, yet we continue to be unhappy.

Google alone can give you a vast amount of information from what to eat, how often to work out, and what routines to follow to be a well-rounded, happy person. For me, running every day improved my mood over a long period. I’ve always tried to outrun my down days and run towards my better ones. However, does an improved mood mean I’m a happy person?

What is happiness? It seems that everybody is in pursuit of it, yet most of us don’t even know what happiness looks like. We’re more fixated on being happy than actually understanding what happiness is, and more so, what it is not.

By definition, happiness is being content for most people, but what about those who don’t associate happiness with contentment? Others would argue that happiness is being with family and friends, but does this mean that those who have no family ties or friendship circles are unhappy people?

The thought hadn’t crossed my mind until I was out one morning taking my usual run. About four miles later, I stopped at the sight of a gold candy wrapper caught in a tree flapping in the wind. I always pick up litter on my runs and walks, and today was no different. As I approached the tree, I could see some carvings had been made on it. Trivial things like names and hearts and crooked stars, things that teens amused themselves doing, and just to the right of the tree, beneath the gold candy wrapper, was the sentence “Are you happy?” carved deeply.

I paused for a moment, puzzled, feeling as though I had been asked the question directly from the universe. All the way home, I couldn’t get that damn sentence out of my mind. Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Are you… happy?

That’s when I started a journey of self-reflection and turning inward for answers. What happiness means for one is different for the other, but we all can agree that it’s a positive state to be in. That’s why the pursuit of happiness cannot be a single road map, how-to article, or rigid routine. It’s a complex journey that has many ups and many more downs.

I was happy on paper—I had a good life, a loving relationship, healthy habits, and enough sleep. However, some mornings I could question my place in the world, and more specifically my happiness, for hours on end.

Finding happiness to me has become more of a pursuit of understanding rather than happiness itself. I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I do not run or find a way for my body to release tension in the form of exercise and yoga, I become a slave to my mood swings. Running regulates me, in a sense; it is like the oil in my machine, nourishing me with feel-good hormones.

It is for this reason that I cannot ignore physical activity and healthy habits, as they directly impact my overall well-being, but I am always fascinated by these frivolous self-help, seven steps to happiness guides that say the same old nonsense over and over again. Eat well, sleep well, shit well, be well.

We shouldn’t ignore the benefits of healthy eating, sleeping, and habits, but isn’t this what comes naturally to us? Our bodies naturally desire to be healthy in order to function properly. These are the basic principles of life: we feel tired, we sleep, we get hungry, and we eat. My purpose, so to speak, is not the trivial markers of happiness or well-being, but rather the abstract feelings that come along with it. It is the sight of the stars or the feeling of a loved one’s hand in yours that makes you feel such an abstract sense of happiness. How do we keep that sense alive, or at least try to?

What about the seven steps to acknowledgement and self-reflection? The state of being authentic and seeking what lies within rather than trying to tweak and change all that lies outside. For us to be happy and stay happy, we need to define what happiness is to us.

No amount of sleep can make me happy if the inner trenches of my mind are in chaos because of repressed resentments towards relationships or people.

A life of acknowledgement is a life of awareness. The key to happiness lies in acknowledging what makes us happy and what prevents us from being happy. If one does not understand one’s inner depths, turmoils, and state of mind, what is the point of living a healthy life? Apples keep the doctor away, but what about anxiety? What keeps the uprooted mind stable?

The pursuit of happiness and the rush towards it has made us more anxious than ever before, yet our quest is to find bliss. This is a paradox of the most serious kind and it’s an epidemic.

So, I ask you, dear reader, to venture out in the world and define your happiness and what it is that truly keeps you happy, because it’s not about the pursuit anymore, it’s about the understanding.