How to Pursue Happiness

The famous psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Don't aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

What did Dr. Frankl mean by this? How can we not pursue success and happiness when the messages are all around us - be happy, be successful? I hear all the time from my clients that they just want to be happy. If they were happy and/or successful, everything would be great.

As you likely know, finding success or being happy is not an easy task and often eludes us more than we care to admit. Media, in particular social media, make it seem as if the rest of the world is happy and successful. The images we are bombarded with trick us into believing that finding the right partner, losing weight, going on tropical vacations, making a lot of money, or buying a new car or the latest iPhone, bring tremendous joy and are a measure of someone’s success.

Raise your hand if you have personal experience with how quickly the shine wears off that new toy or partner and you find yourself once again on the hunt for something else to define your happiness or success.

“...For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” Happiness and success are a result of some effort - they come after something else. That something else is the pursuit of activities that are connected to the values one holds. If a person values service to others, they will engage in community service. They don’t do community service simply because it makes them happy, they do it because it is meaningful, and as a result, they feel happiness because they have done something that benefits others. If one values a strong work ethic, each day they will go to their job and put forth their best effort, and as a result, gain success. Similarly, if one values knowledge, then they will seek education through classes, reading, talking with others, and as a result, feel a sense of accomplishment and contentment.

If we seek happiness or success purely for the sake of feeling happy or successful, then the feeling is temporary, unsustainable, and hollow. The search will never end. Much of the depression and anxiety that people experience are grounded in fruitless pursuits of happiness and success

Do as Dr. Frankl suggested - stop searching. Instead, adopt a “a cause greater than oneself.” Seek to do things that are good in of themselves, that reflect what you value the most, and that add meaning to your life. These types of pursuits are sustainable, and as a result, lead to greater fulfillment.