Are we becoming unhappy in the pursuit of happiness?


Over the past 50 years, Singapore has made tremendous economic progress. But our overall happiness levels haven’t progressed at the same rate, even though there have been recent improvements.

(Of course, we could have a long debate about how accurate these happiness studies are, given that happiness is difficult to both define and measure.)

I’ve had the privilege of speaking to and working with close to 15,000 people on topics related to happiness and success. Through these interactions, it’s become clear to me that people pursue happiness with a passion, but that the majority haven’t found the fulfillment they’re looking for. This is despite the fact that they’ve achieved many of their goals and have made progress in different areas of their lives.

Based on my own life experiences, I can say for certain that realising your goals, on its own, doesn’t lead to enduring happiness.

Goals are useful, but we need to be clear about why we’re setting them in the first place.

I’m sure you have all sorts of goals, as do I.

What job title you want to have.

How much money you want to make.

What car you want to drive.

What kind of vacations you want to go on.

Maybe even what you want your family life to be like.

But have you ever paused to think about why we like setting goals so much?

“If you’re not happy now, you won’t be happy because of money”

Goals give us hope, something to look forward to. And when we achieve our goals we feel good about ourselves, which increases our self-esteem.

In addition, if we know where we want to go in the long term, then goals serve as markers to guide us to that final destination.

At the heart of it, we believe that by realising our goals, we’ll be happy.

But this article, written by someone who made $15 million before he was 30 years old, highlights the fact that this belief is flawed, especially when our goals are focused on material wealth.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Most people hold the illusion that if only they had more money, their life would be better and they would be happier. Then they get rich, and that doesn’t happen, and it can throw them into a serious life crisis.

If you’re part of the middle class, you have just as many opportunities to do with your life what you want of it. If you’re not happy now, you won’t be happy because of money.

Whether you’re rich or not, make your life what you want it to be, and don’t use money as an excuse. Go out there, get involved, be active, pursue your passion, and make a difference.” (emphasis mine)

How to achieve meaningful goals, not just more goals

Your attitude and choices determine your happiness much more than your wealth—or number of goals accomplished—does.

Goals are a means of attempting bigger things, so that you can become a bigger person who’s able to serve others more effectively.

We need to focus on achieving meaningful goals, not just on achieving more goals.  This is a challenging task, because we live in a culture of “more”:

  • More money
  • More time
  • More benefits
  • More food
  • More holidays
  • More houses
  • More education
  • More Facebook friends
  • More Twitter followers
  • More projects
  • More profit

But we need to realise that more isn’t always better; sometimes less is better.

It’s better to have one good pair of shoes than it is to have 20 pairs of poorly made shoes that give you blisters every time you wear them.

In the same way, it’s better to lead a simple life with less “stuff” than it is to become overwhelmed by trying to do more, achieve more and accumulate more.

Are you reacting to the urgent or investing in the important?

If we’re obsessed with “more”, we’ll end up reacting to the urgent, instead of investing in the important.

For example, what if your boss asks you to work late to finish writing a report, but that would mean that you’d miss your monthly family dinner?

Most of us, myself included, would find it hard to say no to the boss.

Her request seems so urgent, and—if you were to say no—you might get a less satisfactory year-end appraisal.

At the same time, you know that your family will forgive you for missing the dinner. You could convince yourself that it’s not a big deal. After all, you’ll be there at next month’s family dinner.

You don’t “have” to do anything

In these kinds of situations, it can often feel as if we have no choice but to give in to the boss’ demands.

But we need to remind ourselves that we do have a choice, even if it doesn’t seem like it. There are no perfect solutions. There are only choices and trade-offs.

No matter what dilemma we’re faced with, we have the power to choose.

We don’t have to go along with the crowd.

We don’t have to choose the urgent over the important.

We don’t have to choose the easy option, if it isn’t the better one.

We don’t have to get sucked into the culture of “more”.

It might not feel this way, especially if your friends are working around the clock in an attempt to “get ahead”. And they’re constantly talking about buying a bigger home. And they’re obsessed about enrolling their children in the most exclusive schools and tuition centres.

But you can make simple choices like…

  • Stop hanging out with people who are a negative influence on you
  • Reading books that inspire and empower you
  • Thinking positive thoughts and speaking positive words
  • Deciding what values and principles you want to live by
  • Defining success for yourself, instead of allowing others to define it for you

Think different, act different, be different

At the end of the day, it’s about choosing to lead a great life, not just a mediocre or good one.

I’m not referring to greatness in terms of material wealth, although it could include that. I’m talking about leading a life of great service, great contribution, great attitude, great commitment, great kindness, and great depth of relationships.

I know I still have a long way to go in building a great life, but it’s a journey we’re on together.

The meaningful pursuit of happiness isn’t about chasing after a positive feeling or a temporary high. It’s about making the daily choice to think different, act different and be different from the crowd.

Let’s choose carefully, so that we won’t become unhappy in the pursuit of happiness.


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