Why Chasing Happiness is Making Us Miserable

Credit: Creative Commons

It’s normal to chase after happiness isn’t it? It may be normal, but it isn’t making us happy. Usually chasing after something means we are desperate. It means we don’t think we can achieve it any other way. What happens when we chase after happiness is similar to those Wile E. Coyote cartoons. Have you ever seen him actually catch the Roadrunner? Do you even have any hope that he’ll ever catch that bird in the future? I definitely don’t. Because as much as he wants to catch the Roadrunner, he’s not putting real effort into it.

Huh? I can hear you say. What are you talking about? Anyone can see how hard he’s trying! He goes speeding after him and orders all those gadgets from acme! If that’s not effort, what is?

I’m not so sure that he is. I actually think he’s desperate. When the desire for something keeps building up and we don’t have a plan, we end up feeling like we have to do something to get what we want. So in the absence of a well reasoned idea of how to go about getting it, we throw ourselves into some kind of desperate action. We order the canon from Acme and blow ourselves up trying to shoot ourselves out of it.

The Way to Happiness is Not Through Desperate Actions

When we are desperate to feel happy, we launch ourselves at happiness, going after the huge things we believe would make anyone happy. Instead of sitting down and thinking of attainable steps we can take to reach what makes us happy, we do things we might actually prefer not to. We go to Club Med despite preferring a quiet getaway. We attend every party in town night after night despite feeling worn out after the third one. We take a job we hate because the pays great turning down our dream job which pays enough to live on but not a lot more.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to tell you not to seek happiness or that you shouldn’t want to be happy or even worse, that you shouldn’t be happy. It’s the way we’re going about it that’s the problem. Because the chase is making people unhappy. This is because the chase is an act of desperation, largely based on the unrealistic belief that if we’re not happy all the time there’s something wrong with us.

Desperate actions are usually those that are last ditch efforts. When the clock hits one second, you throw the ball as hard as you can because even if it’s not caught, it’s no worse that what would happen if it’s not thrown. And there’s a tiny chance that somehow everything will come together just right on the other end and your Hail Mary pass will be successful, winning the game. But because it’s a last ditch effort, if it isn’t successful, which is almost always, the game is over.

When we take desperate actions our minds interpret this as our last chance. So while we may not recognize it in our conscious mind, our unconscious mind is saying, Uh huh, this is it, this is your last shot at being happy, better make this one count or you’ll be out of luck and forever unhappy

And just because it’s in our unconscious that doesn’t mean we don’t still hear it on some level, even if we aren’t aware of it. And so we become anxious. We feel overwhelmed. We may even experience a little fear. The chase is making us feel constant pressure to have to be happy all the time.

Myths Related to Happiness

Part of our need to chase after happiness comes from our misunderstanding of what happiness is, myths which are perpetuated throughout our society. The first myth is the belief that happiness is the absence of all negative emotion. Yet what do negative emotions tell us about ourselves?

When we grieve for someone’s loss it speaks to the connection we had with them. When we are disappointed we didn’t achieve what we wanted to, this speaks to our work ethic or that we have high expectations for ourselves and want more from life. When we are angry it says that there is something important to us that we feel very strongly about.

Without these types of emotions, how would we even recognize happiness? If we weren’t capable of feeling strong negative emotions, would it even be possible to feel strong positive ones?

The second myth is that success leads to happiness. And I’ll qualify this one since it’s not an absolute myth, but the problem is how you define success. If you define success based on other people’s definitions without determining what success means to you, then it won’t lead to happiness or even likely, satisfaction. If you create your own definition of success and allow it remain fluid, to change over time, and for you to add new parts to the definition as you achieve old ones, then it can be a source of happiness.

The last myth is that there is one formula for happiness. The truth is that happiness is not one size fits all. Similar to success, we have to determine what truly makes us happy even if it flies in the face of what we’ve always been taught is the sure fire way to happiness.

You commonly see articles written about how those who don’t get married, who don’t have children, who don’t achieve the same things as those around them never find happiness. Yet there are people that are miserable in a marriage, had children because they were supposed to, who hate being parents and those who achieve at least what those around them do if not more and feel no satisfaction from it. There is no one absolute answer to finding happiness.

Finding Happiness

If you want to find happiness first you need to let go of these myths. Determine those things that give you momentary joy, a sense of contentment, and pleasure as well as the things that bring you long term satisfaction, a sense of purpose, meaning and fulfillment. What ultimately makes you feel whole? Create a list of these things.

Next, create a list of how you can achieve the things that define these areas for you. If one thing that makes you feel fulfilled is helping others, maybe volunteering your time at a hospital, retirement community or school will result in this feeling. If in the past improving your community gave you a sense of purpose, talk to different people who are leaders in your area and see what things are lacking that you might be capable of helping out with.

Concluding Thoughts

In the end, while it may be normal for us to chase after happiness, maybe it shouldn’t be. Happiness isn’t a football you can catch. Instead of a desperate attempt to outrun happiness, realize that it isn’t something that is running away from you. It is something that takes real effort into defining and achieving. Eliminating the three myths from your thinking will let you determine what happiness is for you, Then it will be possible for you to chart out a course that will lead to a happy life filled with the things that matter to you the most.

Invisible Illness

We don't talk enough about mental health.

Natalie Frank, Ph.D. (Clinical Psychology)

Written by

I write about behavioral health & other topics. I’m Managing Editor (Serials, Novellas) for LVP Press. See my other articles: https://hubpages.com/@nataliefrank

Invisible Illness

We don't talk enough about mental health.