Happiness is Overrated

What is happiness? This is a question that has not bothered me for a long time, precisely because I don’t know how to answer it. I am not the only one. Throughout the years, I have lived with all sorts of people: rich and poor, powerful and mediocre. In the eyes of all who have crossed my path–and I include warriors and wise men, people who should have nothing to complain about–I have found something was always missing.

Some people seem happy. They just do not think about it. Others make plans: “I’m going to have a husband, a home, two children and a house in the country.” While this keeps them occupied, they are like bulls looking for the bullfighter. They don’t think; they just keep moving forward. They manage to get their car, sometimes even a Ferrari, and they think the meaning of life lies there, so they never ask the question. Yet, despite all that, their eyes betray a sadness of which they themselves are unaware.

I do not know if everyone is unhappy. I do know that people are always busy–working overtime, looking after the kids, the husband, the career, the university degree, what to do tomorrow, what they need to buy, whatever it is they need to have in order not to feel inferior and so on. Few people have ever told me, “I’m unhappy.” Most say, “I’m fine, I’ve managed to get all I ever wanted.”

So then I ask, “What makes you happy?”

They answer, “I have everything a person can dream of–a family, a home, work, good health.”

I ask again, “Have you ever stopped to wonder if that is all there is to life?”

They answer, “Yes, that’s all there is.”

I insist. “So the meaning of life is work, the family, children who grow up and leave you, a wife or husband who will become more like a friend than a true love mate. And one day the work will come to an end. What will you do when that happens?”

They answer… there is no answer. They change the subject. But there is always something hidden there–the owner of a firm who has still to close his dream deal, the housewife who would like to have more independence or more money, the new graduate who wonders whether he has chosen his career or has had it chosen for him, the dentist who wanted to be a singer, the singer who wanted to be a politician, the politician who wanted to be a writer and the writer who wanted to be a peasant.

In this street, where I sit writing this and looking at the people passing by, I bet everyone is feeling the same thing. That elegant woman who has just walked by spends her days trying to stop time, controlling the bathroom scales, because she thinks love depends on that. On the other side of the street, I see a couple with two children. They live moments of intense happiness when they go out with their kids, but at the same time their subconscious is busy thinking about the job they might not get, the tragedies that might occur, how to get over them, how to protect themselves from the world.

I leaf through magazines filled with famous people–everybody laughing, everybody happy. But since I am familiar with this segment of society, I know it is not like that. Everyone is laughing or enjoying themselves as that photo is taken, but at night, or in the morning, the story is different.

“What can I do to keep appearing in the magazine?”

“How can I disguise not having enough money to afford all this luxury?”

“How can I manage this life of splendor to make it even more luxurious and expressive than other people’s lives?”

“The actress I am with in this photo, laughing and having a great time, could steal my part tomorrow.”

“I wonder if my clothes are nicer than hers.”

“Why do we smile so much if we loathe one another?”

I recall the words of Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges: “I will not be happy any more, but that doesn’t matter. There are many other things in this world.”

Paulo Coelho is the Brazilian author of international bestsellers, including The Alchemist. paulocoelhoblog.com

Ode, the magazine for Intelligent Optimists, is an international independent journal that publishes positive news, about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better. Click here for your FREE issue.

By Paulo Coelho, Ode Magazine


Karen Foley
Karen P5 years ago

I don't think happiness is overrated. If it were, why do we strive so hard for it? I am sad most of the time after ballsing up my life and bashing myself up for it - guilt is such a waste of time and so hard to get over.

William Shakespeare
Mrs Shakespeare8 years ago

I dont believe in happiness. Sure, you can be happy for a while, but then and for the rest of the time, maybe even the rest of your life, you will just be content.

Wood Dragon
wooddragon xx8 years ago

"My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I'm happy. I can't figure it out. What am I doing right?
by Charles Schulz."

"The word 'happy' would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness."
By Carl Jung

Peace to all...

Lori K.
Lori K8 years ago

I was never happy because I always thought i was missing something better. Nothing in my life was good enough. Then, I fell into a job and a life that I never would have chosen, and realized recently that I have never been happier.

I have a career I never would have chosen, teaching Science in the ghetto! I'm a snob, I hate kids who aren't mine, (I used to think). Why am I now content?

My house is filled with scores of foster animals, and I can barely keep up with the mess. I'm a clean freak! How can i feel satisfaction?

I finally realized that I feel good because I am making a positive difference in the lives of many who are far less fortunate than I have been. My students are learning! They are thinking globally, instead of just inside their community. Former students are e-mailing me to talk about college majors like environmental engineering and pre-vet. These are kids who were at risk of gang activities and dropping out!

My family (especially my youngest daughter) and I have have seen over 200 of our fosters go to good homes. These are loving, wonderful friends who would have died, and now they are loved for life.

My children and husband are positive and moving forward with joy and hope. I feel good as I go through my day. I stopped worrying about others impression of me, and do what I feel is best. And suddenly, and surprisingly, I realized that I am actually happy! Go figure!

Cissy BlackKitty
Ceci Blaugrane8 years ago

Great wisdom by Paulo Coelho. I could not agree more.

Lucia Ramirez Lombana

The thing about happiness is that we, humans, are unsatiable. We might have a list of things that when we get them we will be happy, but as soon as we get them, we have another list with new things to look for in order to be happy..

I agree with Ron K. "Quit working at trying to be happy and just be..."


Naga C.
Naga Choegyal8 years ago

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in You”: St. Augustine

Ray P.
Mary P8 years ago

I found i had everything i ever needed in life yet there was always this emptiness, this yearning that something precious was still missing until i discovered what truely brings PERMANENT happiness in ones life and never ever vanishes or disappears i.e. THE HIDDEN TREASURE - GOD ALMIGHTY,THE CREATOR is the only way to TRUE PERMANENT HAPPINESS in Life. GOD is and will always be there no matter what our state. GODS Luv carries you through all walks of life, thru tragedies and calamities, HOLD tight to GOD and we will achieve strength to HAPPILY persevere and be patient in all circumstances thus dispelling the feeling of UNHAPPINESS... Try it (lose yourself in GODS Luv) and experience the feeling of eternal bliss, peace, joy and happiness which no human can ever give us. May we all be blessed with the Wisdom to Know GOD and experience GODS Exquisit Luv and Closeness Ameen.

Shawn Williams
Past Member 8 years ago

Nice, provocative post,
Very interesting site. Hope it will always be alive! I am thinking of visiting your site again.


janine k.
janine k8 years ago

Ron, right on about the "purchase unhappiness." "Show me the love" scenario was from a BIG BLACK MAN who was a teacher in College. He had heard it all. The point was, JUST show me the love already and stop the parc (spell it backwards). Imagine what he went through. He was THE ONLY black male teacher I ever had.