Why Happiness is a Lousy Goal

I’ve half-joked for years that one day I will write a scholarly article entitled, “Clinical Applications of Common Sense.” Professionals don’t use that very much. At that start of my career, a dear friend advised me that the more formal education a person accumulates, the less they utilize down to earth tried and proven approaches in their work.

So, here’s my most used application: Nearly everyone I’ve ever seen for therapy sooner or later whines, “I just want to be happy.” My response to that is to ask, “What do you need to be happy?” This is most often met with a blank stare. Americans are perhaps unique in that we have a societal expectation of happiness as something we’re entitled to as opposed to something we have to achieve or choose.

So, for those who seem stuck in self-pity or misguided ideas of entitlement, I offer a challenge. I ask that they go home and make a list of everything they do that makes them unhappy. If they are honest with themselves, this is usually a pretty extensive list. Upon sharing it with me, they will then eagerly await a solution, to which say, “Stop doing those things.”

Life, people, and solutions are all easy to understand; they’re just often disappointing, scary, or simply too far outside our current comfort zone for us to imagine integrating.

I say happiness to a lousy goal for two main reasons:

1. It’s a choice. Happiness is about attitude, gratitude, and being of service to others. It’s not attained through the perfect love story, the accumulation of wealth, or being thin.

2. It’s fleeting. I’m a bit of a hedonist. I want the good stuff and I want endless amounts of it. I find happiness to be nice. I prefer joy, fulfillment, passion, purpose, satisfaction, and knowing to the depths of my soul that I just did what my HP wanted me to do.

We all know that happiness isn’t a destination but we’re a society that loves the lies of romantic comedy films. We all know happiness is a byproduct of hard work, but few of us want to do it. I say these are important investments, whether by earning better circumstances or investing in healthy relationships. Get focused.

Pursue the process and let the outcomes fall into place.