One of the aspects of happiness that is particularly ironic and full of portentous tensions is the fact that while happiness, and the pursuit of happiness, is a matter of personal choice, in practice happiness is intricately related to other people even if it is rather personal and subjective as well. This tension between our own personal and private search for happiness and the social and public determinants of that happiness is responsible for a great deal of suffering in life, and the sort of suffering where knowledge does not necessarily serve us well so long as our search for happiness is based on intense longings at the very core of our existence.
For a variety of reasons, I have an intense interest in the quests of our existence . Some of these quests can be as mundane as the search for a particular type of food, like kao soy  (a particularly tasty Thai dish). The quests may be as harrowing and important as the quest for wholeness and recovery from the traumas of life, or the quest for respect and honor from others, or the quest for success at romantic love and building a family as well as belonging in one’s community. The relationship of happiness to the quests of our existence is somewhat straightforward, but also often tragic. If we are successful at meeting the quests of our existence, no matter how modest or profound those quests may be, then we tend to feel that our life is successful and we are a lot more content. If, however, we are unsuccessful in solving the quests of our existence, then no matter what we accomplish in our lives, we are not likely to think of our lives as being successful, nor are we likely to feel very content or happy about the course of our lives.
In our lives, as a result of our cultural and social backgrounds, we tend to be encouraged, and even pressured, into choosing our happiness for ourselves. In addition, it is all too easy for us to confuse a general state of happiness or contentment with the search of pleasure (and the concurrent avoidance of that which is unpleasant and uncomfortable), which tends to bias our search for happiness in a short-term fashion that often drastically harms our long-term prospects for a better life for ourselves and others. The fact that we choose our happiness for ourselves tends to cut us off from the input of others, until it is generally too late to revise our quests for happiness that are at the very core of our existence and our sense of self.
Unfortunately, our sense of happiness also tends to depend far too much on other people. Most of what makes us happy as people relates to others. Whether it is the acquisition of wealth and power, which often depends on one’s political skills and connections (which are in fact one aspect of social skills), or whether it is obtaining the respect and honor of others (which is also dependent on other people), or whether it is love and affection from others (again, also dependent on other people). In all such cases, achieving success in these quests depends on a combination of our own skills with other people, as well as circumstance and the shifting moods and sentiments of those around us. Placing our happiness in the hands of others makes us very vulnerable to the emotional state of others, which is a very dangerous place to be.
What to do about it is a far less straightforward matter. It is one thing to know one’s vulnerabilities, know one’s longings, and know the dangers that result from them. This is sometimes a painful task, but if we are reflective and honest with ourselves, we can generally know our own quests and the deep-set reasons for those quests. How to succeed in those quests is not as straightforward a matter. After all, as frustrating as it may be to us, often the hard work required in our pursuit of the quests of our existence makes us better people, even if it may not necessarily lead to increased happiness very quickly or easily. Of course, that which is good is not necessarily pleasurable or enjoyable, and that which is good depends also on an external standard of virtue that is outside of our ourselves, and that is often in tension or even contradiction with that sense of happiness. Such is the life we live, though.