The pursuit of happiness is life to some people, although they’ll likely never achieve it. They won’t get to their desired level of happiness because they think that a certain achievement will bring them happiness. Instead, they should learn what books of wisdom already know: be happy with what you have.
In his book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?, Raj Raghunathan looks into this question. He has much to share when it comes to happiness and how one should think about that desired emotional state in the context of their life as a whole.
Raghunathan: That’s the plight of most people in the world, I would say. There are expectations that if you achieve some given thing, you’re going to be happy. But it turns out that’s not true. And a large part of that is due to adaptation, but a large part of it also is that you see this mountain in front of you and you want to climb over it. And when you do, it turns out there are more mountains to climb.
The one thing that has really really helped me in this regard is a concept that I call “the dispassionate pursuit of passion” in the book, and basically the concept boils down to not tethering your happiness to the achievement of outcomes. The reason why it’s important to not tie happiness to outcomes is that outcomes by themselves don’t really have an unambiguously positive or negative effect on your happiness. Yes, there are some outcomes—you get a terminal disease, or your child dies—that are pretty extreme, but let’s leave those out. But if you think about it, the breakup that you had with your childhood girlfriend, or you broke an arm and were in a hospital bed for two months, when they occurred, you might have felt, “Oh my goodness, this is the end of the world! I’m never going to recover from it.” But it turns out we’re very good at recovering from those, and not just that, but those very events that we thought were really extremely negative were in fact pivotal in making us grow and learn.