A Few Tips On The Pursuit Of Happiness

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There’s good reason that the “pursuit of happiness” is not only held in high regard but also hotly debated: it’s a surprisingly complex subject. Growing up, achieving happiness is not so subtly assumed to be the reward for making it  past a long list of milestones. Writing for Vox.com, Allie Volpe says, “Among life’s many chapters and milestones, Americans have come to see some events — like college, marriage, homeownership, child-rearing, and career success — as achievements they must fulfill in order to maintain the status quo. Because so many follow these “traditional” paths, both in real life and in Western popular culture, we learn from a young age to model and emulate these behaviors.”

A happy woman

The problem arises when you achieve each of these goals and then are left with a feeling of emptiness. Or you fail to reach a goal along the way — dropping out of college, getting divorced, losing your house in bankruptcy, choosing not to have children or perhaps not being able to, missing that long-sought promotion — and then blame your unhappiness on the failing.

In either case, it’s wise to step back — sooner rather than later — and give serious thought to your assumptions and expectations about happiness. As you reflect on the subject, there are basic areas that deserve attention. Volpe notes three in particular:

Living on autopilot. The first step is to do exactly what you’re doing now: stop and think about what you really want out of life. You may be prompted to do so by outside circumstances — you lost your job, for example, or you discovered that your partner has cheated on you. Suddenly you’re forced to regroup and either try to either rebuild your life exactly as it was, or step back and ask whether that’s what you really wanted after all. Volpe sums it up by saying, “it isn’t until you stray from the path — either purposely or accidentally — that you consider whether the road well traveled is the right one for you.”

Look internally. At a young age it’s more likely that we’re guided by others, typically our parents, and directed toward certain goals. But achieving success in any area requires hard work, and that’s very difficult if you’re not motivated. “To home in on the events and activities that make your life meaningful,” says Volpe, “you have to get to the root of your motivations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people feel more competent, more connected to others, and more independent when they are intrinsically motivated — that is, internally or self-motivated.” Self-motivation is extremely hard if you’re pursuing a goal that you are not passionate about. That naturally leads to the question of values — you’re almost undoubtedly passionate about things that you find valuable and meaningful. What are those things?

Consider your values. Choosing between what you want to do versus what you should do is a balancing act. Especially for people with a value system based on religious beliefs, personal desire does not necessarily take precedence over their religious duty. Understanding that distinction is fundamental to understanding your own value system. Gaining that understanding takes work, but the effort is worthwhile. Volpe sums up the issue by saying, “This work is difficult and, frankly, terrifying. Few people would willingly embark on a thought exercise that puts their entire life into question. However, consider the alternative: coasting along in a career or relationship you don’t quite feel passionate about because you never considered other possibilities. At any age, setting aside time and intentionality to decipher what motivates you and whether you’ve been living authentically can be enlightening.”

Read Volpe’s full article here.