It seems to me that the pursuit of happiness is a classic three-card trick. We are consistently encouraged to seek happiness through a variety of channels. We are told that will never be happy unless we measure up to the standards set by media, influencers and celebrities.

What does “happy” mean anyway?

It’s such an all-encompassing catch-all word that overpromises and largely under delivers.

“I hope you’re happy.”

“They lived happily ever after”

“You can be happy if..”

Happy Hammond. (60s TV icon)

Not happy John/Dan/ Kevin/ ScoMo/Tony/Julia”

According to happy means delighted, pleased or glad over a particular thing. Alternatively, it is synonymous with contentment, pleasure or joy.

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We have all felt these emotions at various times. They can’t be forced and often arrive unannounced and unexpected. They are moments to be cherished and savoured. But they never last. Nor should they. We would never appreciate them if they did.

The pursuit of happiness lie

Social media perpetuates the pursuit of happiness. Our youth seem to be convinced that if they convince others that they are happy through their social media posts, then happiness will arrive gift-wrapped at their door.

It’s a sad state of affairs that mirrors the lives of their parents.

We endlessly chase happiness through the acquisition of material goods and on occasions, trophy partners. We need to show everybody how well we’re doing when we’re dying inside and wish we could find an exit door anywhere, any time. This material pursuit of happiness creates this endless Sysphean cycle in which we are doomed to never succeed. (Sysphus was the guy in Greek mythology condemned to push a rock uphill for eternity).

The service concept

I was mulling over the seemingly futile pursuit of happiness when I came across a wonderful quote shared by an Ararat connection, Trevor Wollard

I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is above all to matter, to count for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.

Les Rosten

Everything fell into place as much as it ever does for me after that. If you dig deep enough into all the great religions, the concept of service to others is an underlying theme. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that these religions actually preach that true happiness, a profound inner peace, may only be obtained through service to others. There’s something in that, I think.

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I know that the times that I have felt most useful and most needed were the times that bring back the best memories. Certainly, as a young father of three daughters, I found myself finding new depths of responsibility and compassion and I was at times overwhelmed by the feelings of being needed and useful. Again during my years of administration and coaching with Grampians Hockey, I got a lot more out of the experience than I ever gave.

When my kids grew older and the hockey association ran out of steam I was left with a yawning empty chasm in my life. It took me some time to regain my sense of equilibrium.

What service looks like

My social media feeds are full of people that I have met along the journey. Some are ultra-successful in worldly terms. Some not so much. It doesn’t matter either way to me. They’re all on their journey and they all have a tale to tell. I envy almost none of them, regardless of wealth, status or prestige. There are, however, a few people who I don’t necessarily envy, but sort of wish I’d made some of the decisions that they have made.

I went to school with one in particular but we weren’t close. I wasn’t in the habit of getting close to anyone back then. What strikes me between the eyes is his commitment to the service of others. I’d bet pounds to peanuts that he is well on the path to achieving that state of inner peace.

Tony McManus

Tony and I have spoken several times in the past couple of years and I’m better for those experiences. His story is inspirational and proof that we can make a difference if we roll our sleeves up and have a go. He has become the voice for Men’s Mental Health in Victoria. He is making a substantial difference.
You can listen to Tony’s story in this episode of Nant Nissen’s Thrive For Men Podcast.

Don’t worry be happy

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Is much easier said than done. The great irony may be that we need to abandon our pursuit of happiness in favour of selfless service in order to achieve something much more tangible, real and lasting. I am not sure what you call that exactly. Maybe it’s fulfilment. Maybe it’s inner peace. Perhaps it’s that golden oldie they call enlightenment. Whatever it is I’m pretty sure it beats buying a yacht.

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By Mark