The Pursuit Of Happiness Will Not Make You Happy

freedom happiness
4 min read

A few years ago, I gave up my excessive pursuit of happiness. I used to think that the purpose of life was happiness. But that philosophy didn’t work for me. I realized that happiness is always a byproduct. 

When you spend time with people you love, you feel happy. When you invest four years in getting a degree, you feel happy and accomplished when you graduate. You feel happy when you come up with a useful idea at work. You feel happy when you finish a hard workout. You feel happy when you listen to good music. 

You see? Happiness is the byproduct of an action. It can be as simple as having a conversation with someone or listening to a song. 

But happiness doesn’t last. 

It’s a feeling that comes and goes. Some people disagree with that and say you can always be happy. I think you can be happy the majority of time—not all the time. Why? Because even the best life has bad times.

When You Try Too Hard

If you’re unhappy or frustrated, it doesn’t mean you should do everything to become happy again. 

When you try too hard to be happy, you become impatient. You’re more likely to chase pleasure. And that can lead you to a negative cycle that only raises your bar of pleasure. You will need more pleasure to satisfy your desires. 

In the book Positive Emotion, there’s a chapter called ‘Paradoxical Effects of Pursuing Positive Emotion’ that talks about this principle. In that chapter, written by two UC Berkley professors, Brett Q. Ford and Iris B. Mauss, I read the following:

“Those pursuing happiness may set high standards for their levels of happiness. When their happiness falls short of their standards—which is likely when the standards are high—the resulting disappointment and frustration impedes the experience of happiness.”

Increasing your standards of happiness is a dangerous game. Instead of trying too hard to be happy, seek the truth. 

If you’re unhappy, a different job or city is not the answer. You can travel to every country in the world, but if you don’t have inner peace, your problems will follow you wherever you go. 

Daily life is the same for every individual. We all have to wake up, eat, wash, go to the toilet. We will all experience death, loss, and grief. We all get rejected. We all get injured and ill. And your level of happiness will not change anything about being human. 

Sometimes we forget that. We think that everything will be better if we only feel happy. That’s not the case.

Build A Life Around Things You Value

You will never be truly happy when you live a shitty life of your own making; if you live below your potential, give up on life, and don’t reach for something better, you will be miserable. 

By contrast, if you’ve built a life you’re in control of and have goals you’re working towards, you will be mostly happy. 

One of my close friends has 3 kids. He works as a network engineer and many people count on him at a telecom provider. If he doesn’t solve certain network issues, thousands of people will be affected. 

But despite his responsibilities, his boss gives him a lot of freedom. Why? Because my friend made arrangements with him. 

A lot of people assume you have to work for yourself to be free. That’s not true. If you’re employed, your company or organization wants you to do your job. 

If you’re happy and free, you do a better job. That’s why it’s important to have an open discussion at your workplace about the way you work and live. My friend drops off his kids at school and comes home for lunch. He has enough freedom to enjoy his life. That wasn’t always the case. 

Just two years ago he complained a lot about his work situation. But now his life has more balance because he made a few clear decisions. He didn’t even switch jobs. He simply committed to freedom. That means no more spending time with negative co-workers. Instead, he’s doing his best and prioritizing family and health. He no longer “hangs out” with everybody he knows. 

He works, spends time with his family, and goes to the gym. That’s his decision. Sure, he can’t pick up his kids from school when they are done, but he has peace with that. He’s still around a lot in the morning and for lunch. You can’t have everything. But as long as you have freedom, you will be happy.

After Rain Comes …

Look, no matter how free you are, no one is immune to being unhappy at times. But regardless of how bad life is at times, unhappy moments always pass. 

Time moves in one direction. And even the worst times are not here to stay. If you’re unhappy, you don’t have to fight it. Accept it. And go through it. Know that everything will pass. That’s also true for good times. Everything we do or experience is temporarily. 

In The Netherlands, we have this saying, “After rain comes sunshine.” We use it to remind ourselves and others that good times are on the horizon.

That’s the nature of life. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. Once we accept that, we become free from trying too hard to change how our life is during a specific moment. 

Some things, we have to endure. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t change your life. Since all life situations are temporary, you get a new chance every hour and day. You can commit to making your life better by taking action. No matter what your circumstances are, you can build a life that gives you inner joy.

Start now.


This article was excerpted from my book, What It Takes To Be Free