Why I Stopped Chasing Happiness

chasing happiness

“Some people CHASE happiness. And some people CHOOSE happiness…”

– Robert Holden

I have a confession to make. I have made the most amateur mistake you can make when following your dreams. The one that even your grandma could have predicted. Yeah, it’s pretty embarrassing.

Yet I’m going to open up and be vulnerable here, because I think there’s something you can learn from it.

About 9 month ago I woke up to the possibilities of life. Before that I had been just another college student, aimlessly walking through life, hoping that it would all magically fall together one day. Like most college students, I was miserable inside. When I allowed myself to sit in silence I could feel that I was wasting my time, that I wasn’t living life like it was meant to be.

During one of those silent moments I had a huge realization: we are responsible for our own happiness. It’s nobody’s job to make us happy or create the life we want for us. There’s nobody else we can blame, not our parents, not society and not that guy who broke our heart in 8th grade. It’s our own responsibility to make sure that our life is worth living. It’s our responsibility to take care of our happiness.

I had never experienced such clarity before. Luckily I decided to let action follow. I identified the biggest problem area of my life; money and career. I was a broke college student with no idea what I wanted to do after graduation.

So I put in the time and figured out what I wanted to become: a blogger, a life coach, an author. I began working towards these goals and I made progress. I launched my blog, I switched to psychology in college and started writing.

But then I collapsed. I felt burnt out. Toasted. Overwhelmed. I started doubting myself. All I wanted to do was crawl in bed and pretend I didn’t have stuff to do.

After the initial moment of clarity, I had mostly focused on the gap between the life I was living and the life I wanted to live. I had been trying to close that gap as fast as possible. I believed that reaching my dreams was the only thing that could bring me happiness. I thought that after I had achieved what I wanted, I would finally be allowed to stop and breathe and enjoy the moment.

I was chasing happiness. And that’s no a very smart thing to do.

Happiness is always there with us in the moment. We just have to make the shift and choose to see it. When you’re at the very beginning of the journey to creating a life you love, things can get overwhelming pretty quickly. Once you’ve taken responsibility for your life it’s easy to start blaming yourself. We beat ourselves up and try to force ourselves to work harder, because we feel like a failure the minute we stop and look around.

But what is the purpose of this kind of lifestyle? Why did we choose to live our dreams in the first place? Because we wanted to be happy. But being happy doesn’t come from the things we achieve or how far we’ve come. It comes from being present and enjoying the journey.

If you think about it, why should you be more able to experience happiness once you’ve reached your goals? If all you’ve ever done was push yourself harder to succeed, it will be almost impossible to be still and worship the moment. If you can’t appreciate the journey, then you won’t appreciate your successes either.

After I had understood this missing piece of wisdom I made happiness my #1 priority. I’m now trying to see life as one big experiment on happiness. Sure, I’m still working really hard towards my dreams. But I’m not losing myself in the process anymore. I’ve learned to appreciate what I have now while I’m reaching for my dreams.

Sometimes it’s a little mind shift that can make all the difference. So be still, breathe and reconnect with yourself.

So be still again. Grab your journal and ask yourself how you’re feeling today, and why you’re feeling this way. Try to remember why you went on this journey in the first place. Then make it a habit to choose happiness in the now while still working towards your dreams. Understand that this is a long term vision and that you can’t deprive yourself from all happiness until you’re living the dream. Because if you want to, you can be living it now.

Sometimes a small mind shift, one little realization can make all the difference.

How about you? Have you been chasing happiness? Can you be still for a moment, reconnect with yourself and focus on happiness from now on?

Photo by kk+

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56 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Chasing Happiness”

  1. In Zen chasing happiness is called attachment to outcome. We’re always better off with right action and attention without attachment. Routinely do what is right and good will come.

    Dan @ ZenPresence

    1. Wise words! Process over outcome is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. It takes away a lot of the pressure you can put on yourself if you focus on the outcome alone.

  2. NIce post, especially from a kid (no disrespect intended). One thing: Life Coaches need a few decades of life before they’re qualified to coach. And where did all this “life coaching” come from? Who thought that up? Is the psychiatric community so inaccessible that we need legions of DIY practitioners? Life is random. Enjoy the journey. There’s shockingly little within your control.

    1. Rick,

      When I was 17 or 18, I was a different person. I “believed” that I could be anyone I wanted to. My age and “lack of experience” made me bulletproof. The World was my oyster… I could venture in any direction.

      It was a magical time. I wasn’t held down with things like practicality, or the futility of thinking big. As time passed, life took a toll on us and bent our faith to conform to limitations that we have to live with.

      I’d love to go back to Iris’ time. Why shouldn’t we? Why should we accept the hammering of time to change us as individuals? And why should anybody look at that marvel with any kind of cynicism?

      Frankly, youngsters can teach us more than anybody in their 40s, 50s, or beyond. The more you live, the chances are that you’re more “damaged”.

      I loved this blog post. It revived what I once felt so strongly. If I wanted a life coach, I’d pick somebody like her. I want this person to take me back to the place that I felt I could be anything I wanted to. Isn’t that what life coaches are supposed to do?

      Ro

      1. Love what you said here, Ro. I have people tell me I’m too young or that I’ll grow out of my idealism but I don’t intend to. I believe it’s a choice. You can either stop dreaming and believe all those “grown ups” around you that life is not supposed to be fun, or you can deliberately hold your believes and use the ignorance of youth to make them a reality.

      2. I love what you shared here, Ro. In fact, I consider one of my greatest coaches to be my 16 year old son…and countless other young people. While I certainly respect the wisdom of those with a few decades of experience, let’s not overlook the value we all bring.

        -Jeanie

    2. And some people are wise beyond their years. For me as a young, successful director, coaching is a critical part of my job. I didn’t need decades of experience to be able to help people identify their goals, reach their goals and offer suggestions when the challenges to their goals become difficult. I admire those who reach out to provide support to others. Keep up the good work on this blog!

    3. Good points, Rick. I think the life coaching boom comes from people wanting to have somebody help them move forward whereas traditional psychologists/psychiatrists focus on helping you deal with the past (for the most part). I don’t believe that life coaches need to have a certain age to be a qualified coach, but I do believe that they need to invest in learning about coaching to make sure they’re actually able to help people.

  3. Thanks for the guest post Iris. Reminds me of a quote by Henry David Thoreau:

    “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

  4. Great article and thank you for sharing. Isn’t it almost scary how simple and easy it is to be happy! You wonder how it could possibly take you years and years to figure it out. I have recently started this wonderful journey. Good luck to you in your future endeavors!

  5. Iris,

    I really enjoyed the post today! All we have in life is the moment. The question becomes, How are we going to use that moment? If we “choose” to focus upon hardships and pain of the past, then we inevitably feel lousy! If we “choose” to focus upon our long quest for something in the future, then we will most likely feel anxious. Then again, if we really stop and notice where we are at now, in the moment, and just experience it fully with all of our senses, then we can feel miraculously!

  6. “Happiness is always there with us in the moment. We just have to make the shift and choose to see it.”

    I love this statement – so simple, so true…I never really thought of it that way. thanks for enlightening me!

  7. I love this phrase, “I stopped chasing happiness, i chose happiness”. I guess so many people chase happiness, believing they need some external outcome (the end of the crisis, that job promotion…).
    Really, Happiness is inside all of us, you just have to find it. Its sometimes hard, but … but its here and now!
    Great post Iris, and great personal blog by the way
    N.

  8. Iris…. Its a lovely post…. You have put across all the wonderful thoughts…. Its very true that we all chase happiness…. I am still doing it and i always end up becoming sad and upset….. Though your thoughts are well known to all of us but the difference is the realization of such thoughts…. Its a great thing and I congratulate you for the shift in your life!!
    It my turn now :)

  9. Iris this is such a crucial realisation and it is helpful to be reminded of it as often as possible. I, like you, have been busy creating a life rather than living my life, in the hope that what my creation would end up being a beautiful fluffy nest of happiness. In recent years I too have realised that this is a crazy idea and the focus should always be on the here and the now. The pursuit of our goals should create happiness and fulfillment in the moment and the end result should be merely icing on the cake.

  10. Happiness is just a concept that we created out of thin air and put it forth as something to pursue. All you need do is practise mindfulness meditation, to note (be aware but not to react)your body sensations and mind. Mindfulness is the only thing that matters.

  11. Thank you for this. I feel the same sometimes. Like happiness is a place in the future that I work towards. But I right now I just have to put a lot of work into it. That is of course the totally wrong way to go about it. I’m glad to hear that other people feel similar.

  12. Thanks Iris. Great insight. The reality is that if we put happiness in our future and focus on it there that is exactly where is will stay. Happily heading towards that brilliant future will always be the best way to go.

  13. I would like to thank all of you … I only wish that the world was made up of more people like you, kind, gentle, strong and very positive … I pray that all your hopes and dreams are well on there way …

  14. i cannot tell anything because i am not sure BUT i think everything depends on we ourselves AND ALSO i think we need other peoples be around us,as a Persian poem by Hafez says:

    ” search for the cup of jamshid from me, years my heart made.
    and for what it possessed, from a stranger, entreaty made ”

    a jewel that is beyond the shell of existance and of time
    from those lost on the shore of the sea, search it made “

  15. Happiness isn’t and end in itself so chasing it is daft. Happiness comes from gradually doing more of what makes us happy which tends to be the things we care about. As with most things of real value there are no quick fixes and getting there in a rush – as you say – doesn’t help.

    The psychiatry thing is interesting and the reason for the rise in coaching is that psychiatry and psychology were focused on mental illness. The emergence of postive psychology which good coaching embodies is the change and a good one.

  16. I’m a college student myself and I can so connect with this post. I loved every word and frankly, I’ve always stopped and looked around, worrying and fretting the moment I did that. You teach me to find happiness there, what a lesson, thank you so much for that.

    Super-awesome post! Thanks for sharing your story here.

    Aditya

  17. i like how your post encourages having an internal locus of control, or the belief that we are in charge of our lives no matter what, thanks : )

  18. I love it, Iris!

    Keep doing what you are doing and you will achieve what you want to achieve.

    You are in the perfect situation in life at the moment.. you have years before you get ‘locked down’ with responsibilities. Taking the chances now and setting yourself up for success now is the only way to go.

    See you round :)

    Brendan

  19. Happiness is a state of mind not a goal to be attained. I used to chase happiness and only found it when I reflected on my life as is was and became grateful for what I had, evrything else is just icing on the cake

  20. I love this simple mind shift.

    I know when I started thinking about changing my life, long before I started taking action, I was overwhelmed by how big I thought the mind shifts were going to be.

    It turns out most of them were simple, and many just amplified thoughts I was already having.

    Thanks for writing a thoughtful, vulnerable and inspiring piece.

  21. Beautiful post Iris. Someone said to me recently:
    “We all need 2 mentors in life – 1 much older than us, and 1 much younger”.
    Well done :)

  22. I will rather choose joy over happiness. Joy is spiritual; happiness is material. You can be joyful even when you’re not happy. And you can never be happier than being where God wants you to be, no matter where it is.

    1. Can’t agree more, Napoleon. Happiness is the wrong thing to pursue. Happiness depends on circumstances. You can’t “choose” to be happy all of the time because no matter how hard one tries, we all have our breaking point. Joy is what one should have, but joy is different, it doesn’t need to be chased, it’s something one just has. Joy is dependent on a relationship with Jesus Christ and because Jesus is constant, so is joy. It’s why the Apostle Paul could sing in prison and why countless Christians can cling to Christ in the midst of persecution. Where does joy start? Contentment. One can’t be “happy” or have joy until one begins to be content where they are. That’s not to say one should put aside God-given dreams and goals, but rather one should not be caught up in the things of this world that are fading away. It’s why Paul says in Philippians 4: “for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress.” Be content where you are. You want to be different than everyone else? Stop chasing what the world is chasing. Embrace Christ and you can be content no matter what because no matter what happens, you have Him.

  23. I went through something quite similar a few years ago, and right now, I could say I’m sort of in the same page as you are, Iris. Choosing to be happy every day has a more lasting feeling than setting your eyes on one single thing that’s “supposed” to make you really happy.

  24. Iris, I agree that Happiness will not found by chasing dreams, instead we should find happiness in the steps we take while chasing our dreams. We will get pain, struggle, joy, help etc.. on our journey but we will be happy to take all this. But what next after you achive your goal. will you not find happiness.

    I feel doing the things which I like will give me happiness. But am not leading life alone, sure there will be influences of the sorrounding on you. So when there is restriction for everthing in this world how can you be the way you like which makes me happy?

  25. I think it’s great that you made happiness your number one priority. I personally think it’s good to focus on the little things in life, because when you look back, it’s what really mattered. It’s not always about the end result but how you got there. There’s beauty in everything and every situation if you look in the right places.

  26. There are so many paradoxes and “catch22” situations in life.

    Trying to find happiness can push you further away from it.

    Doing nothing often gets you nowhere.

    It’s all about just living, trying the best we can and continue to learn.

    Thanks!

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