Pursuing Happiness? Please Stop! Graphic.png

Stop Pursuing Happiness!

There’s a lot more behind my signature question, “Are You For Real?!”

For me, I’m asking a client to be honest with themselves, to dig deep into personal development and face whatever faults or challenges they have that must be dealt with in order to move forward. Recently, someone told be about a book that was pretty eye-opening for them in that they heard a lot of what I tell people, just in a different (and a bit more crude) way.

The book is called “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a $(^*” by a guy named Mark Manson. Really! And it’s not saying not to care about anything, but instead to pay attention to and care about things that are values-driven. Here’s where our ideas intersect:

Almost everyone is after the big prize... wealth, fame, happiness. Sadly they are chasing the wrong thing. If you chase happiness, I can guarantee two things will happen: you will never achieve it because your ideal never will match your expectations. And secondly, it will have the opposite effect — you will end up being more miserable than you started.

Happiness in general is a terrible goal because it’s impossible to measure, unrealistic, elusive — the very opposite of S.M.A.R.T. goals that I’ve talked about. There’s a lot that I don’t like about social media, and a big part of it is that it sets people up for the very thing that will steal your joy: comparison. No one seems to have any problems, they’re smiling, happy, in vacation places, in general enjoying life more than you seem to be. It’s easy to feel left out, resentful, depressed.

Instead, I ask people to get REAL. Put happiness aside, and focus instead on things you can measure, attain and celebrate. Instead of saying, “I want to be happy,” try “I want to spend more time with my family.” “I want to increase how often I exercise.” “I want to eat better foods, more often.”

You may notice that these goals, while tangible, aren’t necessarily easy or fun, at least in practice. However, consider the person who puts on their running shoes every morning and heads out for a jog. That is work, it’s generally not comfortable, and they likely have a very brief conversation with a voice that tells them to skip it and enjoy brunch instead. However, their pursuit was discomfort, pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. When they return home, they are accomplished, their muscles (although possibly aching) are stronger, and probably their heart muscle most of all. The result ends up being that they feel great to have finished.

When we go after the negative things, like dealing with a difficult client or customer and committing ourselves to helping them dispite your personal feelings toward them, the end result is more likely than not one of positivity. When we embrace failure, we gain understanding of how to improve. And so on.

The trouble is so many of the self-improvement messages out there tell you to always be positive and to avoid negative feelings. That really does you a great disservice. Instead of simply ignoring negative feelings, face them. Explore them. Where are they coming from? What can you do about them?

It’s like being upset with someone, and hanging onto that anger instead of putting on a little humility and courage, and asking to talk with that person. The conversation may be awkward, uncomfortable, even contentious. However, if you maintain a goal that you want to come to an understanding with that person, you will emerge from that painful experience feeling pretty good. You will also likely have gained that person’s trust, respect and admiration.

The bottom line in all of this is, when you state what you want, ask yourself what you are willing to endure to get it? Will you be for real? That old adage “no pain, no gain” is really where it’s at. So, if you’re one of the many millions who want to make millions, how many hours will you be willing to put into work, education, meeting new people, etc., to make that happen?

The good news is that happiness — or really in these cases true joy — grows from struggle and problems. Why is that good news? Because we all have plenty of that in our lives, making the fields ripe for harvesting.