Stop chasing happiness

Anyone who has ever felt true happiness at any given point in her life knows what a rare and special gift it is. Extensive studies have shown that money can contribute to happiness up to a point, but only the point at which it buys us the basics and a few discretionary dollars. People with more money are not necessarily happier. Believe it or not, there’s a break-even point beyond which no more happiness can be purchased.

People often ask the question, “If you had all the money in the world, what would you choose to do with your life?” I think that question is less useful in determining true vocation and inspiration than this question: “If money didn’t exist at all, what would you choose to do with your life?” There’s a difference. Money can provide power and with it you may lead a philanthropic life or a profligate life, or maybe a little of each where (in your own mind) your philanthropy at least partially excuses your greed. But if there were no money involved whatsoever, and life’s currency derived completely from happiness, what would you do with your day? What would motivate you to get up in the morning? What makes you happy?

I think it’s a true statement that real success ensues from happiness and not the reverse. Happiness that ensues from success is fragile indeed because it’s completely dependent on remaining successful in a variable world. Happiness is the byproduct of actually executing the gifts that we do most naturally, the gifts that arise organically from our own natures. How can money have anything to do with that? Money only muddies the waters and points a lot of us away from our gifts.

The great philosopher, author, and psychotherapist, Dr. Victor Frankl said, “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, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Some have cultivated their gifts earlier in life, and others are just getting started. It really doesn’t matter when you start, as long as you do it. All we ever really have is the present anyway, and it’s never too late to be happy.

So I pose the question: If money didn’t exist and you could do anything at all with your time, what would you change in your life? Would you spend your day doing exactly what you’re doing right now? Or would you be cultivating new gifts, gifts you’ve always known were there, but were never empowered or encouraged to express?

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