All I ever really wanted in life was to be happy. Doesn’t everyone?
It’s the pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow. But it can remain stubbornly out of reach.
So what is the secret to happiness? Sorry to disappoint you, but this isn’t another article telling you how to find it.
Quite the opposite. I’m going to encourage you to stop chasing happiness.
This was the life-changing revelation I came to after a life spent hot on its tail and pointlessly in pursuit.
The irony is, since I stopped looking, I’ve never been happier.
Playing hide and seek with happiness
When it comes to chasing happiness, I feel like I’ve tried it all over the years.
From as young as I can remember I always wanted to be somebody. I thought that would help me find it. Because that’s what we’re taught right?
You get happiness through doing and through having. That new car, that promotion at work, that praise you get for a job well done.
It’s almost impossible not to fall into that trap because we do get a sense of satisfaction whenever we win, achieve, or succeed.
If someone transferred a million dollars into my bank tomorrow of course I’m going to be ecstatic. But it’s always a limited amount of happiness. It’s a short-term high.
When we land the job, we’re thrilled. Until the drudgery of going into the office every day starts to kick in. Until we begin to feel bored and unchallenged.
We get the girl and we’re on cloud nine. Our ego is boosted, and we’re high on endorphins. She alone is enough to make us happy. Love will save us.
And it does, for a while.
Until the hormonal high fades and the unsexiness of reality creeps in. Until we wonder why we still have bad days that are no longer fixed by her mere presence. Until she fails to make every day magical, and we feel shortchanged.
And so it continues.
Because the shine wears off everything eventually.
Money, fame, love, material possessions, accolades, and achievements. I systematically rotated through them all in search of where happiness was hiding.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
But happiness always seemed a much better player than I was in this game of hide and seek.
“Should” is a dirty word
I guess some people would call me driven.
I’m the founder of Ideapod. We’re a personal development platform with millions of monthly readers. And I’m proud of that, and what we do here. But material success isn’t what drives me anymore.
I’ll be honest though, it was.
When I started Ideapod I was really focused on outward measures of success. I felt boosted when big names in the entrepreneurial world, like Sir Richard Branson, gave us his backing.
When you’re heralded as the next big thing, that’s bound to bring you happiness, isn’t it?
But it didn’t.
Despite the success we were having, something still wasn’t clicking. I didn’t feel particularly fulfilled and I didn’t feel like I was being authentic.
I realized that the success I was chasing was just another one of these “shoulds” that we end up going along with.
It was someone else’s version of happiness that had been programmed into me long ago.
I’m certainly not alone. So many of us do this that the number one regret given by people on their deathbeds is:
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
We follow these “shoulds” almost like breadcrumbs that we think will guide us on a path to happiness. But really they are a burden that keeps us stuck searching in the wrong places.
So I started to believe that if the answers weren’t outside of me, they must be inside.
After all, that’s the popular wisdom of most self-development these days. Don’t be one of those suckers searching for happiness in the external world, go hunting inside.
So that’s where I turned my focus, looking for my bliss. Spoiler alert: it only led to a narcissistic style of self-absorption…
Turning inwards was not the antidote
It’s become a bit of a cliche —those soul-searching journeys to “discover yourself”.
Self-awareness is a really important tool. It’s always worth investing in greater understanding and self-knowledge.
It can quite easily become just another thing we chase.
If we’re not careful, spirituality can become a cloak of superiority that makes us feel better but is just another way of hiding from ourselves.
That’s what happened to me.
I meditated, studied spiritual teachings, visited temples, and took medicine journeys. I consulted spiritual “gurus” promising to show me the way.
Spirituality became the next thing that would save me. I made my world all about the inner Universe within.
It quickly became a new trap — a narcissistic one that revolved solely around me.
I got stuck in this introspective state and discovered that spirituality can become really self-centered.
I was ignoring the practical reality I was living in. I consoled myself in feeling spiritually superior. I tried to use spirituality to hide from my problems and push away perfectly normal human emotions.
It was all just another illusionary state that solved nothing.
Rather than adding anything to your life, maybe you just need to strip some things away
So here I was.
“More” had failed to make me any happier —whether it was more success, more money, more sex, more love, or even more “wisdom” and spirituality.
I felt cheated.
But who said these things would deliver? Well, I guess society did.
It’s all part of the underlying social programming that shapes our expectations, and our personal realities.
It finally dawned on me. Instead of hunting for more, I needed less.
I needed to strip things back in order to see what I was left with — what really lies within.
I referred to this as becoming unbounded — aka becoming free. Learning to get rid of my conditioning to discover what was most important to me.
Here’s a glimpse of what that looked like in practical terms:
- A release of expectations around the importance of being in a relationship.
- Letting go of wanting to achieve a certain level of wealth to focus on doing things that help others.
- No longer running from so-called negative emotions, and embracing the inevitable lows as an enriching part of life.
In a rather contradictory way, I simultaneously made my life less about others (and their expectations) and also less about me too.
Don’t chase happiness, because it will always run from you. It’s a waste of time, energy, and focus.
Learn to stand still and look with brutal honesty all around you. Then let it come to you.