Almost three years ago to the day, I laid in a field somewhere on the coast of Australia. With a pen in my hand and a journal on my blanket, I wrote the word hedonism in large, ascertained letters.
Hedonism: noun. the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self indulgence. The ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.
After a few troubling months of jobs and relationships and situations that made me miserable, I’d found it, the purpose of living. The meaning of life. I held the secret to existence between the very pages of my little black book.
It made sense to chase after happiness. It sounded right to turn away from hardship and pain. It was logical to abandon any means that didn’t have a juicy, vibrant end in sight.
I was to forever run towards ecstasy, eternal bliss waited for me at the end of a road. Which road, I didn’t know. But it was my calling to take every turn, to taste every drink and see every sight, until I found it. Though trouble would come, I’d turn around at the faintest whisper of difficulty and venture toward something new. Something better.
Or so I thought.
As it turns out, hedonism is a faulty theory. It’s a misleading journey, an escapists compass. After three years of running, I realized that the perpetual state of bliss I’ve been searching for doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist, because the pursuit itself, the U-turns, the rambling, the ceaseless hunt, ultimately prevents pleasure. No matter how many rocks I jump over or how many detours I take, confronting adversity is inevitable. Hedonism isn’t feasible, because pain and hardship are unavoidable.
Though these last few years have been beautiful, thrilling and youthful, they have also been unfulfilling. Naïve, avoidant, and a little entitled, I never did find what I was looking for. I never found it, because true happiness, true pleasure, and true satisfaction are not all that happy, pleasing, and satisfying. Rather, they’re dirty. They’re difficult. They’re messy. They’re a mixture of joy and sorrow and the bridges that span between. As it turns out, sprinting only towards the good is about as unstable as euphoria is evasive.
So, maybe the point of life isn’t to chase after happiness after all. Maybe the only way to source out deep contentment is to just be. To enjoy the air on a peak, while welcoming the quiet of a valley. To soak in mundanity as much as I revel in spirit. To wrap myself in blankets of both suffering and prosperity, exhilaration and boredom, labour and relaxation.
Mastering that is true happiness.