Chasing Happiness Cannot Replace Personal Growth

Is it enough to chase happiness in life? Numerous philosophers have argued that, for a deeply satisfying experience of life, something more is required, something founded on substantial personal growth, rather than a preference for a particular ephemeral feeling that manifests in a constant effort to spend a lot of time in the desired emotional state. Is it possible that the “pursuit of happiness,” so central to American, and indeed, much of contemporary Western values, may actually get in the way of attaining life’s greater riches?

Alfred North Whitehead

A. N. Whitehead said learning is impossible without the desire to learn. This matters because all personal growth requires us to learn something. (Image: public domain)

I have already argued, in “Religious Conversion Can Block Self-Discovery,” that a desire for spiritual salvation in the religious sense can seriously impede a person’s growth process. Here I will make the case that thoughtlessly chasing happiness (in the materialistic sense of money, entertainment, possessions, and social status) has a similar hindering effect. It is worth noting that “the pursuit of happiness” in this mundane manner may be a crude version of the creative person’s sophisticated use of subtle moods or feeling tones to enhance both their creativity and their ability to remain productive.

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Personal Transformation Through Writing

Alchemy was the medieval forerunner of chemistry. It was particularly concerned with trying to convert base metals (such as lead) into gold or to find a universal elixir – more popularly known as the philosopher’s stone – that would perform the conversion upon contact. In recent times, the word alchemy has evolved to indicate any process of transformation, creation, or combination that seems magical.

Alchemist kneeling beside his alembic

Writing over a long period can be a powerful alchemical process of personal transformation. (Image: public domain.)

Even the ancients realized that alchemy is as much about refining the alchemist as it is about distilling some raw material into the philosopher’s stone. Jung popularized this notion in his writings. In this process of self-refinement, the alchemist must pass through three stages:

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