You’re Always Going to Be Chasing Happiness, So Learn How to Enjoy It

Spoilers for “The Pursuit of Happyness”

Max Phillips
Jan 12 · 5 min read
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Photo by Stephen Olatunde on Unsplash

There’s a quote from Chris Gardner, portrayed by Will Smith, in the 2008 film The Pursuit of Happyness that stood out to me:

“It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?”

It’s that very pursuit that binds the film together. It resonates because it’s true. Life isn’t a montage of happy moments, despite what Instagram might want you to believe.

Instead, Happiness Is Fleeting

Gardner runs throughout the film, whether it be to find a room for the night or to his job interview. I was exhausted for him.

Whereas Tom Cruise’s characters are always running toward their next mission, Chris Gardner runs away from one problem into the following one.

A lot of people wait around for happiness to kick in. They think their final checkpoint will come to them, and it will be happily ever after.

Life isn’t like that.

You’re always putting out fires, sprinting to extinguish the next one. There isn’t going to be some glorious payoff. Happiness, when it does come, is fleeting.

At the end of the film, Gardner walks down the street, crying as he finally gets the job he’s been working so hard for. All of the hardship has paid off, and Smith’s performance keeps our eyes glued to him. We have been through it all with him on screen, so it’s a blessed relief to see something go right for once.

During the scene, Smith narrates, saying:

This part of my life… this part right here? This is called “happyness.”

It’s not forever. It’s fleeting. So you better learn how to enjoy it.

Small Ways to Enjoy Your Moments of Happiness

While life is a never-ending chase for small moments of happiness, there are ways to make it more constant in your life. So, here are some ways to embrace the fleeting moments you get.

A problem a lot of people have is they end up being “and then” people. They think that by waiting for life’s next milestone, they will eventually become happy. It goes like this:

  • “I’ll graduate from university, and then I will be happy.”
  • “I’ll get my first job, and then I will be happy.”
  • “I’ll get married, and then I will be happy.”
  • “I’ll have kids, and then I will be happy.”

Eventually, and somewhat depressingly, their life is over. I don’t say this to bring down a pessimistic curtain over your eyes, but in the hope you understand something.

The world doesn’t owe you anything. There isn’t some magical finishing line you need to cross. Instead of being an “and then” person, act now. By accepting this, you’re already one step ahead of everyone else.

One of the problems with waiting for milestones to make you happy is once you achieve them, the moment quickly passes. Goals, like happiness, are fleeting. Relying on them to make you happy is not sustainable.

Sure, achieving your goals might make you happy for a short while. But by falling in love with the pursuit of happiness, you can enjoy life so much more. You will be running from one situation to the next but enjoying the journey.

I know that merely preventing yourself from overthinking is easier said than done, but the long-term benefits are great. When you overthink, your brain is awash with “what if” scenarios, according to mental strength trainer Amy Morin.

These can take you out of a fleeting moment of happiness — trapping you within your mind. Prioritize mindfulness and train your brain to keep yourself in the moment.

A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that even if participants didn’t notice any change, they felt better about their bodies. That is what short, ten-minute workouts are best for.

An article from Science Daily notes the worrying impacts body dysmorphia can have, especially on young people:

“Adolescents with negative body image concerns are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal than those without intense dissatisfaction over their appearance, even when compared to adolescents with other psychiatric illnesses, according to a new study by researchers at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital and Brown Medical School.”

The mere knowledge that you are helping your body out can boost your base layer of happiness. While your concerns won’t evaporate, you’re putting yourself on the right track.

Even though I am in good shape, there are plenty of times where I don’t like how I look. A short, intense workout helps adjust my mindset in a positive direction.

When I binged How I Met Your Mother, a line from the show’s best character, Barney Stinson, stood out:

“Whatever you do in this life, it’s not legendary, unless your friends are there to see it.”

Not only is it healthy to share your highs with friends, but the experience can also bring you closer together in the future. A year on, you can reflect on the happy memories you created and use those to make even more.

When my dad worked in London as a contractor, he commuted two hours there and two hours back every day. He had no time to exercise, was always tired, and didn’t enjoy life.

However, since he took a job in a town a mere 25-minute car journey away, his happiness sky-rocketed. We have been able to have dinner together, and he can also find time for the gym.

You may tell yourself that hellish traffic is worth it with a well-paid, important job. However, Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert claims otherwise, saying:

“Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness found that such factors could not make up for the misery created by a long commute.”

Surprisingly, the mere thought of watching your favorite movie can raise your endorphin levels by 27%, according to Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage.

Moreover, a study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found that happiness levels spiked the most during the planning stage.

I don’t enjoy planning a holiday. I would much rather someone else do it for me. It’s the build-up to a festival or trip abroad that gets me the most excited — followed by extreme sadness once it’s finished.

That, in essence, encapsulates happiness. It peaks at small moments, then comes crashing down until we begin pursuing it once again.

Don’t Give Up the Pursuit

If you were to take one thing from this article, let it be this:

Accept that you won’t be smiling from ear to ear 24/7, and you’re already a step ahead of everyone else.

Happiness is like every other emotion. It comes and goes, but we can learn from it. Remember what has made you happy in the past, and look forward to those times again.

It could be something as simple as a smile.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Max Phillips

Written by

22 | Self-improvement, productivity and creativity tips | Get in touch —

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 150,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Max Phillips

Written by

22 | Self-improvement, productivity and creativity tips | Get in touch —

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 150,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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