How to take a different approach on happiness


If we are continuously searching for happiness, we often end up feeling dissatisfied and lost. Going with the flow of life is what it’s all about. Hans Thijssen, a professor of philosophy at Radboud University in the Netherlands, tells us a bit more. 

Thijssen thinks that suffering and happiness can coexist perfectly. You can feel down and still be happy. “The big misunderstanding in today’s world is that people confuse happiness with pleasure,” he says. “And so they chase the wrong things: They want to become rich and famous, because then—so they think—they can buy what they want and enjoy a comfortable life.

Let me say this: There is nothing wrong with enjoying things, but it is something essentially different than actually being happy. Enjoyment is temporary and is caused by things from the outside. You can enjoy a delicious meal, a good movie, a promotion at work or a pair of new shoes.But at a certain moment that feeling wears away. Happiness is much more stable and has to do with a lifestyle, finding a spiritual balance in which you will flourish.”

The interpretation of happiness that Thijssen likes is based on old wisdom in philosophy, and revolves around one question: What is actually a good life, and therefore a happy life? The old philosophers felt that it had nothing to do with the base pursuit of pleasure. It is all about moderation, humanity and love. And also about justice, courage and purpose.

Are you having a bad day? Or are you depressed because your relationship ended or you lost your job? That’s part of life. Feelings come and go but, according to Thijssen, do not have to affect our happiness. The big question is: How do you deal with the things that happen to you? Because that’s where you can make a difference. “Suffering belongs to life,” explains Thijssen. “We rarely get what we want, and we get a lot of things that we don’t want.”

“We often let ourselves be carried away by the emotions we feel in response to unpleasant events. We become angry, jealous or feel wronged. But we can also learn to take a step back and to ask ourselves: Is my interpretation of the situation correct? Is this job really so desirable? Does this person really want to hurt me or are they just having a bad day? We can also look at the ways we react: Was it really necessary to shout at my children like that when they broke the window, or could I have reacted in a different way?”

  • Read the full story ‘A Different Kind of Happiness’ in Issue 30.

Text Otje van der Lelij Photography Stefan Widua/