Chasing Happiness

Jul 29, 2011 by

“A great man? I see only the enactor of his own ideal.”1


Jenny accepted her high school diploma in a bittersweet haze. Sure it was a “great accomplishment”. Sure she had “great things to do in the world.” But no one really understood. She wasn’t sure she really understood. Her whole life, she had been watching movies and television shows about High School. She dreamed of the day when she could call herself a “teenager” and a “high school student”. She heard from her parents that it was the “best four years of their lives”. It had become her own ideal: “Jenny Porter, High School Student”. Nevermind that it didn’t last forever. It was just what she had always dreamed of being.

Now, she noticed that she was less happy with herself. She was the same person she had been before donning her cap and gown. But, no—she wasn’t. Hardly still “Jenny Porter, High School Student,” she was “Jenny Porter, Citizen of the World.” Now, she no longer achieved her own ideal. She saw that her so-called “happiness” was an illusion—or merely a result of being the thing that she wanted to be. She was happy with her status, not with herself.  It certainly didn’t help that her ideal was such a short-sighted one. Now she would need to get to work on another one. Of course, she would never be truly happy until she stopped defining herself by what she did and rather loved herself for who she was.

So, can this process of making ideals for oneself ever be used to attain true happiness? I agree with Nietzsche that chasing an ideal can never lead to greatness nor excellence (and therefore, certainly not happiness). Jenny is so much more than just a high school student! In order to find true self-satisfaction, we must embrace not our title, but ourselves beneath the title. We are always the same person, despite what we may do. Seeking an ideal self can never make us satisfied with who we truly are. Am I saying that we should not have personal goals set towards making ourselves more virtuous? Certainly not. However, we must build upon ourselves, not try to reinvent ourselves as an “ideal”. Once again, we must know our true selves before we can obtain lasting happiness.



1. Nietzsche, Fredrick. Beyond Good and Evil.

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