❝Thomas Jefferson was a real poet. He was slick with that 'pursuit' of happiness because the 'pursuit' puts it back on you.❞ -Will Smith
I feel pretty good as I move into my new office. It's 2017, and I just accepted a job with a fancy title and a high salary. I make more money than I've ever made in my life. I have no worries about money whatsoever. My life right now is a complete 180 from where I come from.
Not only do I not have to worry about money, but I'm also never going to be behind on bills, I can afford anything that I want, and for the most part, I can do anything I want. But I'm miserable. I'm miserable because my new job comes with a micromanager, which is the opposite of autonomy, one of my core values. My new job comes with expectations of working evenings and weekends with very few vacation days. This doesn't satisfy my value of adventure. Other core values, like creativity, curiosity, and learning, can't be met at this new firm either.
I find myself in a position where I have enough money to afford everything I want, but I can't meet my core values.
Money didn't provide the happiness I thought it would.
WHAT IS HAPPINESS?
We can't talk about happiness without first defining happiness. This is a more difficult task than it seems on the surface. Before we can even define happiness, we have to know whether or not it's an emotion, a mindset, a lifestyle, a choice, or a state of being.
If I ask 100 people on the street what happiness is, I'll get close to 100 different definitions. However, based on my experience, many people will answer with some version of smiling, having fun, or laughing. Indeed, if you heard somebody say, “I'm so happy right now,” I imagine your mind's eye painted a picture of somebody with a big smile.
Perhaps we think that maybe having fun all the time doesn't create a happy life. Maybe, instead, a happy life consists of being free from negative states of mind or negative emotions. In this point of view, you don't have to be having fun all the time, but as long as you minimize the amount of sadness, anger, envy, anxiety, regret, or any other negative emotion, then we might say you're leading a happier life. Maybe this is on the right track, but having a state of mind where you don't experience anger, for example, is not the same as suppressing anger when it comes up.
Perhaps happiness lies in satisfying your purpose. It's easy to see how a life with purpose has direction and will make for a more meaningful life. On the other hand, it's easy to imagine somebody who spends too much time focusing on the future. They may be so absorbed in fulfilling their purpose that they fail to live in the present moment, letting life pass them by. That doesn't seem like a happy life.
You might even have your own vision for what a happy life entails. There are too many definitions of happiness, and it's essential to define what we mean by happiness before talking about it.
YOU'RE WRONG ABOUT WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
As a society, we spend less time thinking about what it means to live a happy life and more time imagining what will make us happy. This is precisely the aspect of our minds that gets taken advantage of with get-rich-quick schemes.
The underlying assumption is that money is the ticket to success. If we have money, the idea goes, we can buy ourselves out of any bad situation we're in and therefore don't have to worry. Not having to worry may be one definition of happiness that somebody has. This is why we play the lottery or get involved with pyramid schemes. We imagine a world where we don't have any financial troubles anymore, and therefore we will be happy.
Perhaps it's not the money. Maybe we think we're above all that money-brings-happiness business. We instead focus on pursuing success. We think we will be happy as soon as we get that promotion, start that company, or sell the business. We think we'll be happy as soon as we publish that book or get booked on that Ted talk. Success means that we are in a higher position in our tribe, and if we were still living in tribal times, we would probably be more successful if we moved it up the ranks.
Maybe it's not so much success but fame we’re after. People imagine that once they get enough followers or enough likes, they'll be happy. Indeed, there is a release of dopamine - the feel-good chemical in the brain that comes from hitting a reward - that feels really good in the moment. Being famous means many people think you are important. This is related to success in that way.
However, with more money comes more trouble. Each successful endeavor will lead us to want yet another success. The joy that comes from going viral only lasts for a short time.
It's easy to find wealthy, successful, and famous people who are unhappy. This is perpetuated by the fact that they believe they should be happy and that there must be something wrong with them for not being happy.