If Happiness is Your Goal, You’ve Got the Wrong Goal
Ah, the pursuit of happiness. Life, liberty, and all that.
This may be a bit controversial, but hear me out. Finding or creating happiness should not actually be your ultimate goal in life.
“But James, why?!” Well, I’m glad you asked.
You don’t need to hear this from me or anyone else because you’ve experienced it yourself: Happiness is a fleeting emotion, a specific release of neurological chemicals in your brain that give you a certain feeling. The same can be said for love, sadness, anger, and other emotions we feel on a regular basis.
Being a neurological state, it cannot and will not be permanent. No matter how happy OF A LIFE one can seem to have, no matter how much money there is in a bank account, no matter how many beach houses or exotic cars there are – there will NEVER be 24/7 happiness in a human being.
Regardless of our outer shell or socioeconomic status, we are all living within the same human condition and we all experience the same ups and downs.
This means, happiness can never actually be a final goal because it can be here one moment, and gone the next. This unavoidable reality can make you feel as though you haven’t actually achieved your goal once it’s left you, albeit temporarily.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
By this logic, you can never obtain happiness on a permanent basis. You will face loss, hardship, challenges, failures – things that take that happiness away from you. During those times, you will feel left wanting, wanting for the thing you once had but somehow seemed to lose.
It’s easy to see how this can leave you feeling unfulfilled because you’ll wonder if you’ll ever actually achieve the mythical happiness that so many people project on their social media feeds.
Hint: They can’t possibly be happy 24/7 either, because this all applies to them as well.
So, is life just hopeless then? Do we throw in the towel and continue along our beige lives just accepting this is all we get?
What you SHOULD be pursuing is FULFILLMENT. When I work with my private coaching clients, we focus on finding fulfillment through making progress. Through learning and gaining new skills. Through crushing goals and then setting new ones.
Gaining a new skill, contributing more in society, or becoming more “useful” to the world hold a unique advantage over happiness: They are irreversible.
Once you gain a new skill, you’ve got that skill in your pocket forever (assuming you don’t squander it).
Once you contribute to a person or a cause, that contribution cannot be undone.
Once you accomplish a goal, you cannot “unaccomplish” it.
And the beautiful thing about progress is that there is always more to be made. You cannot ever run out of things to learn, do, or achieve. This means it cannot be fleeting like happiness is. It is a permanent condition to be a creature of learning and growing.
To pursue fulfillment and progress is, what I believe, to be the undervalued path that brings people true satisfaction in their lives. Anyone who has ever made millions or billions of dollars but still feels empty and lost will tell you this. Success is not the answer – but it WILL give you more ability and opportunity to become fulfilled through self-education and learning.
So, yes, value your happiness. Value your monetary and material achievements, you’ve earned them. But, never place your self worth or identity in the hands of either one.
My late grandmother (rest in peace) used to say you should never marry someone for their hair, their teeth, or their money, because they can lose it all.
The same goes for happiness or financial success. It looks and sounds great on paper, but if you invest too much in either one, you will be crushed when it goes away.