Why You Should Stop Pursuing Happiness and Success

Winter portrait of young beautiful woman covering face with woolen scarf. Closeup of happy girl feeling cold outdoor in the city. Young woman holding scarf and looking at camera. She is smiling and content with her life.
Let's explore why pursuing happiness and success can make you feel insecure and unfulfilled, and what you should strive for instead.

We all want happiness and success, but few have achieved both in life. Why is it so hard to be happy and successful when most of us work diligently toward these two ideals? That’s because we’ve been going at them the wrong way!

 

Let’s explore why pursuing happiness and success can make us feel unfulfilled, and what you should strive for instead.

 

Pursuing Happiness and Success Often Leads to Compare and Despair.

 

We see people who have “made it” and aim to achieve what they have. But the truth is, we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. We don’t know the struggles and sacrifices those people made to get where they are today.

 

"Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get."

Everyone’s situation is unique. Happiness and success mean different things to different people. It’s not fair to compare apples to oranges. It won’t help us achieve our own happiness and success.

 

Michelle Wax, the founder of the American Happiness Project, produced a documentary film American Happiness, interviewing 500 happy people in 50 states about money and work. She said many people in her 500 interviews shared that financial goals and professional accolades drove them, until they got to a point where they felt drained or anxious and couldn’t understand why. 

 

Pursuing Happiness and Success Makes Us Doubt If We Are Good Enough.

 

When we encounter setbacks and challenges, one of the most common reactions is to question if we have what it takes to reach the goal.

 

When we focus on happiness and success, we evaluate ourselves against those proven examples. We see their highlight reels and think they have it all figured out. We feel we aren’t good enough to achieve what they have done.

 

"Anything in life that we don't accept will simply make trouble for us until we make peace with it."

 

Pursuing happiness and success keeps us focused on the result rather than the process. Happiness should not come from what we achieve, but from doing what we do. Success should not depend on the outcome, but on the growth and wisdom we gain from dedication to our passions.

 

Life is about learning and growing, not just reaching the finish line. Discovering who we are and what makes us feel alive is an essential step.

 

Pursuing Happiness and Success Makes Us Prioritize the Wrong Thing.

 

When we pursue happiness and success, we prioritize comfort and status over everything else. We want bigger, shinier things because they make our lives easier and more enjoyable. We become obsessed with making more money, getting promotions, and achieving recognition to improve our status.

 

Happiness studies conducted by psychologists Sonja Lyubomirsky, David Lykken, and Auke Tellegen found that an external factor, like income level or money in the bank, accounts for only 10% of long-term happiness. 

 

In her book, The myths of happiness: What should make you happy, but doesn’t, what shouldn’t make you happy, but does, Dr. Lyubomirsky argues that we have been given false promises—myths that assure us that lifelong happiness will be attained once we hit the culturally confirmed markers of adult success. This black-and-white vision of happiness works to discourage us from recognizing the upside of any negative and limits our potential for personal growth. 

 

 

Conceptual Opposite Closed Single Doorways on White Walls at Empty White Room. This image showcases that things aren't always what they appear to be. It's important to recognize our passion and values and pursue them instead of happiness and success.
@TMGZ2021

One of the most important things we can do for happiness is to choose our priorities carefully. If we focus on pursuing happiness and success, we may end up sacrificing the very things that would make us happy. Instead, let’s focus on the things that truly matter and let go of pursuing happiness and success.

 

So why should you stop pursuing happiness and success? Because it will likely drain you in the process. Instead, focus on what truly motivates you and aligns with your values. Pursue relationships, activities, and goals that make you feel peaceful and in control. This, over time, will lead to long-term success and satisfaction.

 

Pursuing Happiness and Success Makes Us Forget the Childlike Wonder and Joy, Doing What We Were Born to Do.

 

We become so focused on the destination that we forget to enjoy the journey. We become obsessed with the idea of “making it” and achieving the goals that we fail to live in the present moment and appreciate what we do have.

 

Pursuing happiness and success can also lead to feelings of anxiety and insecurity. When we constantly chase after something, we can never be content with what we have. We always want more and better, and this can lead to a cycle of dissatisfaction.

 

It’s not that pursuing happiness and success is bad. But if we’re not careful, it can consume us and take us away from the things that truly matter in life.

 

Famous author Kurt Vonnegut wrote to a group of high school students about pursuing a passion for something bigger than themselves – the need to nurture curiosity, to create, and use that passion as the anchor that keeps up stable on this bumpy ride called life.

Kurt Vonnegut's letter to a group of high school students, advocating the importance of pursuing a passion, to create, something greater than oneself.

Happiness and success are moving targets.

 

What works today might not work tomorrow. The world is changing fast, and so are the definitions of success and happiness. If we chase after something that is constantly evolving, how can we ever hope to catch it? We can’t.

 

So what should you be striving for instead?

 

The answer is meaning. Find something that gives your life purpose and reason, and chase after that instead of happiness and success. Because when you find meaning, happiness and success will naturally follow.

 

Viktor Frankl, a renowned Austrian psychiatrist, founded logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy that describes a search for a life’s meaning as the central human motivational force. As a Holocaust survivor who spent years at various Nazi concentration camps, he wrote the following passage in his international bestselling autobiography, Man’s Search for Meaning.

 

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you’re going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued. It must ensue. And it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself, or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.

 

Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success. You have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscious demands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run. In the long run, I say, success will follow you precisely because you have forgotten to think of it.

–      Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

 

In the book, Frankl describes those who survived starvation, illnesses, and hard labor were often not the strongest in the physical form, but those with a rich inner world and a sense of purpose despite circumstances.

 

Many people have witnessed or experienced difficult situations in recent years. Some days are much harder than others. If you need encouragement to push on, read or listen to Frankl’s autobiography, Man’s Search for Meaning, it’ll bring you a new perspective and motivate you to find your life’s purpose, however dismal life may feel.

 

I listened to the audiobook while I was recovering from a horse-riding accident. Those days were long and gray, filled with worries and pain. When I heard Frankl talk about the harrowing ordeal he’d gone through at Auschwitz, my problems felt much smaller and more manageable.

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Frankl started a contest for his fellow prisoners at camp to come up with jokes and funny stories. He knew no one could survive the harsh environment without finding meaning in life. Their skits brought such emotional relief that prisoners from other huts would skip their only meal of the day and sneak over to enjoy the performance.

 

I, too, found the meaning of suffering. The accident was a wake-up call for me to re-prioritize my life. Writing became more important to me than my pharmacy career. I cut down my work hours to focus on writing. I wanted to write stories of hope despite suffering.

 

Having a sense of purpose is like seeing Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Although so far away, it gives us a sense of direction and connection. We’re no longer alone in our journey.

 

We have hope.

 

More Inspiring Quotes to Get You Thinking

 

“There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.” 

-Richard Bach

 

“Tension is who you think you should be, relaxation is who you are.” 

-Chinese Proverb

 

“Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.” 

-Mary Anne Radmacher-Hershey

 

“There is no stress in the world, only people thinking stressful thoughts and then acting on them.” 

-Dr. Wayne Dyer

 

“I am not bound to win, I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to the light I have.” 

-Abraham Lincoln

 

“Expecting life to treat you well because you are a good person is like expecting an angry bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.” 

-Shari R. Barr

 

“Doing what you like is freedom. Liking what you do is happiness.” 

-Frank Tyger

 

Do you think we should stop pursuing happiness and success? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Dr. Ivy Ge

Dr. Ivy Ge

Doctor of Pharmacy, author of The Art of Good Enough. She writes to inspire women to design their own fate. Her writings and interviews have been featured on MSNBC, Thrive Global, Working Mother magazine, Parentology, and The Times of India.

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