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Don’t Go Chasing Happiness
“Smile. Be happy. Change your outlook. Think positive thoughts. You just need to want it bad enough.” These commands have almost become mantras in today’s society. Never stop being happy – and don’t forget to smile!
Everyone’s talking about it and everyone seems to be doing it. There are books, conferences, apps, self-help routines, podcasts, articles, and a whole industry in helping people to become happy. There’s pressure for everyone to have it figured out because once you figure out your happiness you will have success, great relationships, and your dream job. Happiness is supposed to be both our end goal and the means in which to attain it.
But what if this constant dwelling on being happy is actually detrimental to our well-being and satisfaction?
Instead of telling you why you should be happy, let’s examine why it’s okay to stop chasing after happiness, and examine the importance of struggles and the value of purpose.
1. It’s okay (and even healthy) to feel ‘bad’ emotions.
Some days you need to cry, grieve, lean on others, or have a day to yourself – and that’s okay. Humans are complex, emotional beings; denying yourself the wide range of emotions you can feel is robbing yourself of the complete human experience.
To honestly express what you’re feeling (rather than bottling it up) is a healthy form of expression. Try it out through a creative outlet or with someone you trust – you may find it liberating to express your fears, doubts, and frustrations. You can only let go of emotions once you’ve acknowledged your feelings.
2. Success means finding what you’re willing to suffer for, rather than what you want
Bear with me on this one… We all want a happy, glamourous, easy life – a successful company, a perfect partner, and a sculpted body. And yet, if we all want these things, why do so few of us actually have them?
Most people think that simply ‘wanting’ to succeed is enough, that your desire itself is enough to propel you towards your goal. But in fact, desire is a necessary but not sufficient precursor to success.
It’s because it’s not the things that we want which define us.
It’s the things that we’re willing to work hard for, the things we’re willing to struggle for, which define us.
Yes, you want your startup to succeed. But are you willing to put in 14 hour days, wake up at 2 am to speak with a client, or do months of hard work before your first sale?
So next time you’re making your resolutions or goals, don’t ask yourself what you want. Instead, ask yourself what you’re willing to suffer for to accomplish. For more insights on this topic, read The Most Important Question Of Your Life by Entrepreneur, author, and world traveler Mark Manson.
3. Find Your Purpose, Not Your Happiness
Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the holocaust, and therapist within the camps of WW2, wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning:
“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.””
(An extremely well-written introduction to Frankl’s thoughts and life can be found by reading There’s More to Life Than Being Happy by Emily Esfahani Smith)
The book emphasizes that it is our purpose that is important, rather than what brings us pleasure. When simply focusing on our own pleasure, a hardship or obstacle is seen as the ultimate burden – if we can’t be happy then what’s the point? But when we focus on our purpose (or our company’s purpose), we’re able to withstand the periods of doubt. And doubt can seep in easily, for example when your team can’t seem to get it together, during the months before you make your first sale, or even when that startup you worked so hard for eventually fails in a catastrophic mess.
How do you shift your vision to working towards your purpose? Valuing happiness is working to better your standing, but working for purpose is working to help others. Ask yourself if there’s a ‘why’ to your actions – and is it something you believe in wholeheartedly? If not, figure out what you want to do, who you want to impact, or what you want to change so badly that you’re willing to suffer for it. This process can be both intimidating and time-consuming, however if you want to ensure the long-term sustainability and success of your venture, you better make sure you’re creating something you’re willing to work towards.
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While happiness is a wonderful emotion, it’s important to realize it’s not necessarily the ends or means towards success. While our culture focuses on instant sensory gratification, perhaps there’s more to life than our search for pleasure. I challenge you to take a couple of minutes, and instead of thinking of what you ‘want’ to accomplish in the future, think of the things that you’re willing to suffer for, the things that give you purpose.