can pursuing happiness foster unhappiness

So lately I’ve noticed a “happiness” trend.

I heard the “pursuit of happiness” originated as the “pursuit of property,” which is interesting if it’s true. Also, the pursuit of happiness was to be expressed in the context of community rather than today’s interpretation of Individual Happiness Above All. It was written with the assumed context of “the greater good” and all that.

Since happiness is trending, I’ve tried it out and ended up in this weird passive-aggressive dance with happiness. This is where I’ve landed:

I don’t think happiness is what I need to be happy.

In fact, paying attention to “happiness” actually makes me more unhappy. It gets the focus off of living and I begin measuring. One easy way to diminish life is to live with a ruler in our right hand. (That hand is for holding.)

I practice paying attention to what’s important and ignoring the rest. (What’s important to me will be different from what’s important to you, which is as it should be. Also this is a comparison-free zone.)

So I have an idea.

How about, rather than focus on the elusive feeling of happiness, (which actually, if we’re honest, is just a grown-up version of “getting our way…”) and instead, think about what is important to us. What are my priorities? My highest values?

I think we can start with the back of an envelope and over time, add and remove what is most important.

Be Honest.

Be Selfish.

Just because you write it on the back of an envelope, doesn’t mean you’re making a commitment.

But what can happen, with time, is we begin to allow ourselves breathing room to THINK AND FEEL DIFFERENTLY ABOUT OUR LIFE.

If you want to make a lot of money, write that down. If you want to have a lot of sex, write that down. Please don’t filter yourself. (There is a big difference between a desire, a value, and a decision to act. Respect the difference and grant desire a voice.)

What’s particularly brilliant about the back of an envelope, is your space is limited.

A limited life-span encourages prioritizing. We can’t do everything. If we wish to live out of what is important to us, we have to choose. We can’t adopt our preferences, our culture’s, our family’s, our boss’s, and our parents’.

Separating our preferences from the preferences of those around us takes time, honest introspection, and courage.


The words I use in my list changes, but the bones are the same.

  1. be a partner, friend, and parent that can be counted on
  2. be loyal to, and fiercely love and listen to, a small number of friends
  3. value rest
  4. value honesty
  5. protect a space for reading, thinking, and discussing ideas
  6. spend time on activities that nurture beauty, nature, community, humanity, god, strength, healthy space, healthy relationships, healthy bodies, food, dance, freedom
  7. love from my toes



There are many moments when being a friend, parent, or partner that can be counted on FEELS like the opposite of pursuing happiness. This is when it’s good to practice thinking about the future.

Sometimes doing what we do not enjoy today, will produce results that make us and someone else, extremely happy in the future.

Giving a human stability, honesty, and presence can be costly in the moment, but it also creates trust and love and often, the gift of friendship, which is immeasurable.


With practice, I’ve learned how to live past myself in moments, which makes me someone to be counted on. But the circle that counts on me is very small.

With children, we get to help initially, and then observe them taking steps toward some things and people, and away from other things and people. We get to enjoy the fruit of them becoming themselves.

Being around people growing makes me very happy.

Had I lived with the insane motto to “live from my heart,” I would have left multiple partners and multiple families and I would not be the person I am today.

Somewhere I believed being a human that a few people can count on is heroic.

Somewhere I believed that creating space for others to know someone they can count on long-term was more important than doing what I want tonight. I think it was dumb luck, but it’s that space today that provides more strength for me than probably any other area of life.

I hope we all can find our space of strength that makes the day-to-day sacrifices one day seem heroic.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s