post written by: Angel Chernoff

One Thing You Must Stop Doing to Be Happy


One Thing You Must Stop Doing to Be Happy

by Jonathan Mead of Paid to Exist

Sometimes our lives are overloaded with notions of practicality and productivity.  We believe that if there’s no planned purpose to an event or activity, there’s no point in doing it.  In reality the best things in life are unplanned and without an appointed purpose.

We sacrifice a great deal of our time and sanity doing what we don’t want to do, so that at some arbitrary point in the future we can establish the freedom to do what we love.

We relentlessly pursue happiness in every imaginable way.  We pursue happiness in material possessions, in social status, and in the acceptance and recognition we get from others.  We even search for happiness in various versions of a future-promised afterlife.  But these pursuits rarely give us more than fleeting moments of joy.  We end up missing out on lots of thrilling life experiences and contentment because we fail to understand a very simple but easily overlooked fact…

The Search for Happiness Causes Misery

You can’t find something that’s already here with you.  Happiness exists in this moment.  It’s not something you need to find.  That’s like trying to find the oxygen you’re breathing right now.

In reality, it’s the tension of your mind that causes unhappiness.  If you’re not happy, it’s because your mind is focused on something that’s making you unhappy.  And why is your mind doing this?  Because you’re stuck in a vicious cycle of misdirected judgment, productivity and purpose that has you thinking about every imaginable time and place, except right here, right now.  That’s not to say being productive is irresponsible, or that pursuing goals that have a purpose is wrong.  The problem occurs when you base your entire reason for living on a point in time – an activity or achievement – that doesn’t yet exist.  (Read The Power of Now.)

When we place all of our happiness on the idea of ‘getting’ something, checking off items on a to-do list, or achieving a future goal, we’re fooling ourselves.  We’re like a puppy that’s chasing her tail.  We keep running around and around, chasing that tail with every bit of energy we have, but we never catch it.  And we never stop to think that it might be all the chasing that’s making us miserable.  We’re too distracted with trying to win the game.  As soon as we beat one level and see some success, we’re instantly in a hurry to upgrade our search and move on to the next level.  We never stop to think that it’s not the failure to win the game that causes our grief, but the game itself.

We neglect to realize that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to stop participating in the problem.  Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to simply stand still and breathe.

Sometimes…

  • The smartest way to be happy with the place you live is to stop chasing the mansion you see on HGTV with five bedrooms, a pool, a fireplace, and a three-car garage.
  • The best way to solve the problem of not having lots of friends is to stop worrying about having more, and instead appreciate the few good ones you do have.
  • The simplest way to be content with yourself is not to achieve high admiration and praise from others, but to accept yourself fully for who you are now.
  • The quickest route to happiness is to stop the pursuit of finding happiness and start the process of being happiness.

By letting go a little we immediately release ourselves of the grasping tension of the mind.  But it’s not easy to stay in this mindset (the mind loves to hold on); it’s something we have to constantly cultivate.

It’s especially difficult when society tends to place more value on things and status, than on experiences.  We are told to value what we do more than how we feel.  This is complete nonsense when you think about it.  The way you feel is far more important than what you own or how others perceive you.  Isn’t the purpose of everything you do to feel good?  Isn’t the purpose of that new gold watch, that important job title, or college degree to give you a feeling of accomplishment?  Aren’t these things supposed to make you happy?

The problem with this is we’re basing our happiness on fleeting things and events.  We’re deriving our joy from an acquisition or an achievement.  This isn’t true, lasting happiness; it’s an addiction.  We get a short burst of endorphins to our bloodstream from our new big screen TV, or new iPhone, or new title on our business cards, and then what happens?  It disappears.  It leaves us feeling empty and we begin looking for our next fix.  (Read 1,000 Little Things.)

Our advertising and consumer driven culture doesn’t help us at all.  We’re persistently showered with messages that we need this, or we need that.  Every day on TV, the radio and online, we hear: “Buy this and it will make your life easier and happier!”  If only we could afford that thing we may finally be happy.  Wrong.  Things aren’t going to make your life any better.  I mean, buying a faster computer or acquiring a solution to a small problem you’ve been meaning to fix is great.  You may feel a sense of joy and achievement for a few moments.  But you’re still looking for your happiness outside yourself, in a thing.

It’s the same with productivity and goals.  If only we could cross off every item on our to-do list, we could be content.  If only we could achieve all of our goals and dreams, we could finally be satisfied.  This thinking is based on the false belief that you’ll reach a certain point where everything is done.  You finally made it!  There’s nothing left in your inbox, all your projects are complete and your lifelong goals are achieved!  Now you can rest easy and be happy.

But, of course, this point will never come.  That’s because life is endlessly evolving.  Every day is a new beginning.  There will always be things to do.  There will always be challenges, because everything in life is changing from moment to moment.  If you reached a point in your life where you had no more problems, no more struggles, no more worries, your life would stop, literally.  Game over.  (Read Buddha’s Brain)

So, what can we do about this?

We Need to Stop Chasing Happiness

That doesn’t mean we stop trying to achieve our goals or striving for personal growth.  It just means that we no longer base our happiness on fleeting, semi-permanent things.

There are obviously some situations where not chasing a task or result may have serious negative consequences (see paying your mortgage or rent).  Excessive chasing, however, will inevitably make you miserable.

The reason chasing too much can be detrimental to your health and happiness, is you’re so focused exclusively on the future.  Your identity is too deeply attached to outcomes that are uncertain.  If something does, or doesn’t go your way, it will likely have an enduring effect on your mood.

Instead, we should base our happiness on the life we are living – on the beauty that is already ours, on desires that don’t shift from moment to moment.  We choose to find our happiness now – in life itself.  In fact, we don’t even need to ‘find’ happiness.  We can be happiness.

Stop searching.  Stop chasing.  Happiness is already here.

Jonathan Mead is the creator of Paid to Exist and Trailblazer, platforms where he teaches people how to eliminate the separation between what they get paid to do and what they love so that they can contribute meaning to the world and live a life of freedom.

Photo by: Dirk Dallas

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39 Comments

  • I’ve mentioned this here before, but this sounds a lot like Stoicism. Admittedly, nowadays I find myself consciously practicing the ideas of Stoicism far less than I should and I see the effects.

    Back when I practiced it, I found myself never chasing happiness because I consciously reminded myself of what I already had and then made the effort to “want what I already have.”

    It really was living life while basing it on the moment of living. I felt amazing every moment because there was nothing in the world that I desired. I think it’s time for me to start implementing Stoicism again. Thank you for the reminder, Jon.

  • Absolutely true, and much easier said than done. Thanks for this. Also, check out The Power of One by Courtenay when you have a chance — a great piece of fiction that addresses similar issues.

  • This post vibes so well with the previous post published on this site - the one about mindset. When you think about the beauty in each moment, the moment becomes beautiful. Happiness is a choice for most of us. Great read!

  • Man, this is awesome. I can’t describe how much I appreciate this post, and this dose of advice really struck my heart-string. I am personally struggling with always trying to fit in, and in the process I’m making myself feel miserable. Thanks again for reminding us that the happiness is not on the outside, but within, and the fact that we can breathe and enjoy the life we have is worth being grateful for. Keep all the good work up, everyday I wake up, I wish that you guys put up another amazing post. Thanks.

  • This post reminded of this poem:

    Always too eager for the future, we
    Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
    Something is always approaching; every day
    Till then we say,

    Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear
    Sparkling armada of promises draw near.
    How slow they are! And how much time they waste,
    Refusing to make haste!

    Yet still they leave us holding wretched stalks
    Of disappointment, for, though nothing balks
    Each big approach, leaning with brasswork prinked,
    Each rope distinct,

    Flagged, and the figurehead wit golden tits
    Arching our way, it never anchors; it’s
    No sooner present than it turns to past.
    Right to the last

    We think each one will heave to and unload
    All good into our lives, all we are owed
    For waiting so devoutly and so long.
    But we are wrong:

    Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
    Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
    A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
    No waters breed or break.

    - Philip Larkin (Next Please)

  • A must read post for everyone! This post leads to self realization. Well said that “we’re basing our happiness on fleeting things and events.”

  • Lovely… I needed this… Because right now I am chasing behind this endless task list of goals and ideas that are making my life miserable.

    You are right, Happiness in the NOW! It is in Me.

    Thank you for this post. :)

  • Awesome post! Something very powerful about the notions described in the Power of Now is our ability to completely lose the regard of there being a “future” or a “past” and instead just focus on the complete Being that you are every single second of your existence. I completely agree that it seems society tends to lose focus every now and then and places a greater concern for how the world perceives them, rather than how they are feeling right Now. This almost constantly changing set of personal priorities seems to be one of the underlying causes for unhappiness; how is it that we can be happy if we don’t really know what our goals are? This article is awesome because it’s starting to draw people’s attention back to how they can become content by simplifying the drama unfolding in their lives. Just a simple move that makes a world of difference :)

  • Definitely a great book is The Power of Now, if you understand the value of Now you no longer believe in unhappiness. Live your life; your life is now.

  • This quotes applies to me today :D

    “We neglect to realize that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to stop participating in the problem. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to simply stand still and breathe.”

  • Thank you for this entry today… You guys are 2 for 2 this week in hitting the nail on the head for me. I thank God for whatever lead me to your blog months and months ago. I have never before heard of Jonathan Mead, but based on what I’ve read so far, I have a feeling he will also be an integral part of my awakening process. Thank you Marc and Angel.
    ~jmw

  • Beautifully written… every word of it. And so true!

  • Very true, but hard to do. I try and think like this and be happy with what I have and where I am.
    I do however find it interesting that in the article it says “The smartest way to be happy with the place you live is to stop chasing the mansion you see on HGTV with five bedrooms, a pool, a fireplace, and a three-car garage.” and then the advertisement at the bottom is for custom homes starting at 1.6 million. Either way, I love this website and your weekly emails.

  • Genius. The notion of *being* happiness rather than *finding* happiness is so simple and far from easy. Buddhists believe that the root of suffering is desire, in wanting things to be different. I’m pretty sure they’re on to something there…

  • Awesome Article! Thank you.

  • Mental Note: stop wanting so much stuff… enjoy the things you have. Also.. breathe. Ahh… that’s better. As usual - great post!

  • Now this one gets my “the best of” of Marc and Angel stamp… Thank you so much.
    I live in Brazil and start working late, so frequently I manage to read your posts during breakfast. Love seeing “Marc and Angel Hack Life” in my mail box. I save it to when my coffee is ready so I enjoy both. It’s such a lovely way to start my day… see, just a simple dose of happiness to set the mood for the day. Thank you, you’ve been an inspiration, you have no idea.

  • This is almost spooky for me. Were you listening to my phone conversation yesterday? The premise of this post is exactly what we were discussing. Anytime I’m feeling “less than” I’m going to read this article. Possibly the best post ever.

  • Interesting post!
    I’d like to enforce the last part of the post - about you continuing to pursue the goals you’re passionate about and investing in personal growth - because research has repeatedly shown these are two things which can be linked to higher levels of happiness.
    Saying that, research has also shown that different types of goals have different effects, some more positive than others. So it’s really about taking an approach that not only suits you but also helps you enjoy the journey towards those goals. Because once you reach a goal, you’ll find a new one to strive for. So the answer to happiness is enjoying your journeys towards goals - and of course enjoying your day-to-day life (without goals) too.

    Three of the most powerful things that helps boost happiness (as shown by the latest positive psychology research) is being grateful for everything you have, doing enough of the things which you’re naturally good at and enjoy (strengths), and having a sense of purpose and meaning in your life.

  • And happiness is a choice. You may need to make it each and every day, and, of course, there will be times when everything around you makes for less than happy conditions, BUT you can still choose to be happy.

  • Happiness is not a destination, it’s a choice. Once you choose happiness, it’s a verb… a way to act on the journey. I’d rather get lost on a highway, or lost in the process, than lost in the moment. The most powerful thought on the topic of this post came from my neighbor Ted: ” I saw your coffin, and all your crap will not fit.”

  • So true! There will always be something more that we want, but for me the path of joy is enjoying right now, while desiring more in the future. When you focus on truly using and being is this moment the future seems to take care of itself anyway.

  • “Your identity is too deeply attached to outcomes [people] that are uncertain.  If something does, or doesn’t go your way, it will likely have an enduring effect on your mood.”

    …to put it lightly. Unfortunately, those of us with BPD experience this and more with 100x intensity. DBT (designed for BPD) does borrow from Buddhism and I can see the truth in this article’s focus on the present… but it’s SO SO SO hard to put into practice, especially when you’re spinning out of control. I do have hope for improvement and stability in the future, and I know that it needs to start NOW, as difficult as it might be in the moment. So, thank you, Marc & Angel, for continuing to remind me and give me hope, even when some days seem totally hopeless.

  • Hello,

    You’ve made a good point about chasing happiness. As we all know, or maybe not, when you chase something it alludes you.

    I agree that it’s time to stop chasing happiness and just be happy already. Life’s too short. Think of a sunset, puppies, kittens, the birth of your children, etc. and be happy. It doesn’t cost much!

  • Do you guys ever rest…? You guys keep putting out the best blogs out there… Thanks again!

  • I have a mantra I have started saying to myself. “I will never be happier than I am right now.” It has a couple of interpretations, or ways my mind plays with it. But it always helps.

  • @Vincent: Interesting observation. I haven’t delved much into Stoicism, but from what I’ve heard it makes sense.

    @Tony: Aren’t all things worth doing much easier said than done? ;)

    @JJ: It’s crazy when you really think about that. Happiness is *always* a choice.

    @Ralph: I love notes like this. Thank you Ralph.

    @Tim: Beautiful.

    @Vruti: You’re welcome. :)

    @Sufian: It’s interesting, right? Life can be very simple if we choose for it to be.

    @JM: It’s an honor, thank you for your trust.

    @Dana: Thank you.

    @Constantine: Interesting! Maybe it was deliberately placed there to test your ability to respond without attachment. ;)

    @Karen: I think the root of suffering is *attachment* to desire. Desire itself is inevitable and unavoidable. But being attached to outcomes and expectations is what often gets us in trouble.

    @Cindy: You are awesome. And it’s an honor to even be considered “best of” on this site.

    @Kay: Sounds like some synchronicity happening for you…

    @Susanna: Those are great reminders. I agree!

    @David: LOL. Sounds like an awesome neighbor.

    @Erika: You can change your life. I believe in you.

    @Amandah: As they say, the best things in life are free.

    @John: :)

    @Ken: I love that.

  • So, in a nutshell, if you want to be happy, then BE HAPPY.

  • Very nice read and so true. Thanks.

  • That was thorough, I loved it. Happiness isn’t a destination - it’s a direction. I think that ties in perfectly with ’success’ as well (however you define it), you’ll never find or come across success, you have to the success that you’re after, then you’ll find it.

    Happiness & success can really be elusive when you search for them, and quite frankly you’ll never find them… Either be happy and feel good, or forever chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Great post!

  • Beautiful post; so timely and perfect for this NOW moment. Thank you!

  • Hello there!

    I appreciate this article because this topic has been in my mind for the past few weeks. I think what we’re really aiming for as humans is sustainable happiness. Material acquisitions and other ’status symbols’ do not give genuine happiness, but instead only provide short-term pleasure. It sounds pretty simple, if we recognize that sustainable happiness can be achieved by passion and profound purpose. BUT I think the problem here is more complex than that. The real struggle here is finding ways to transcend the social/political/economic system, which does not reward people who pursue their passions, and which has put us all into this “hypnotic state” wherein we, as ordinary people, are reduced to just being CONSUMERS and WORKERS (or slaves, which I think is more appropriate), and which is also why people are anxious and unhappy in the first place.
    I remember the author from the Project Mojave, or is this a different Jonathan Mead?

  • An amazing post, as always. A great book that talks about these issues is Richard O Connors Happy At Last.

  • You may not realize it, but this is the single best article you have ever written… which says a lot!

  • A great article but, and maybe I am splitting hairs here, I think it a fruitless pursuit if we pursue happiness. Happiness is an emotion, and as people of emotions, our emotions change. Sometimes those changes in emotion are beyond our control (consider your response when someone cuts you off in traffic). I would propose a much more fruitful pursuit would be that of attitudes. The attitude being discussed here is the attitude of joy or perhaps contentment. After all, we can control our attitudes.

  • Yes - let’s stop chasing happiness because, quite simply, it’s not to be found outside yourself. No-one and nothing can truly make you happy if you have not found inner contentment.

  • Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.
    ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • just what i needed. it reminds many of us of our favorite poems and quotes. happiness is the key to everything in life. i loved this article a lot.

  • Happiness is what every sentient being wants. Well if happiness is what you want, there are three books by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. There are :- 1) Art of happiness at work. 2) Art of happiness in a troubled world. 3) Art of happiness a hand book for living. I believe you will never regret by going through these books.

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