What Is Happiness? Why Is It So Elusive? – Insights from the Wilderness #272

What is HappinessThe office phone rings. It’s a potential new life coaching client calling for information.

After answering the caller’s questions I ask the caller “why are you interested in Life Coaching?  What would you like to achieve? What goals would you like to work on?”

A common response usually sounds something like this…

  • “I’m tired of being sad and depressed all the time”.
  • “I want to find more meaning and purpose in my life”.
  • “I want to live a more successful life”.
  • “I would like to improve my marriage”.
  • “I’m lonely. I’d like to find a life partner and get married.”
  • “I’m bored with my job”.
  • “I’m tired of being broke, I want to make more money”.
  • “ I have an idea for a new business and wondered if you could help me”.

In other words, the response is essentially some form of  “I want more happiness in my life”. Unfortunately, happiness is not an object one can achieve directly. It is always the by-product of goals that improve the world… or the lives of others.

Here are a few insights I have discovered about the nature of happiness over the years.

What is Happiness? The Elusive Nature Of Happiness

It’s not uncommon for most of us to spend most of our lives looking for “things” that we believe will make us happy. For example:

  • A new job.
  • More money.
  • A new car.
  • A new house.
  • A new computer.
  • Buying a new “something.
  • Going on vacation.
  • Retirement.
  • Success.

The wish list of “things” that will make us happy is a list that borders on the infinite.

We satisfy the wish and for a few days or weeks we think we’re happy. But eventually the old unhappy feelings creep back in and the happiness we felt for a while morphs back into wanting, disappointment, impatience, frustration, and envy for the happiness other’s seem to be enjoying. All too soon our never-ending desire and wishing for “happiness” comes back to haunt us.

So what are we doing wrong? Why is happiness a major goal in our lives; a goal we spend so much time searching for, only to find that it’s all but impossible to hang onto the happiness we do discover? Here are four ways that almost all of us use to quickly turn happiness back into unhappiness.

Four Ways We Create Our Own Unhappiness

First, we are pursuing happiness directly. In other words the goal we are pursuing is “happiness itself”. Happiness can’t be achieved as a “thing”. Happiness can’t be pursued as an object. Happiness only comes to us as a by-product when our lives are focused on bringing value into the world. When our life is focused on adding value to the lives of others.

Secondly, happiness is a choice, not a goal. Happiness is best achieved when we choose in advance to have the kind of day we want to experience. When we decide to only focus our attention on those things that will make us happy today, that’s the happy day we will experience. The same is true of unhappiness. If we spend our day focused on things that make us unhappy, that’s the unhappy day we will end up experiencing.

Stated simply, happiness is an attitude or choice that “we” make. It’s not something that simply “happens” to us. And that attitude choice need to happen… every morning before we get out of bed. In other words, we need to intentionally choose the kind of day we are going to have. We need to intentionally choose the kind of experiences we are going to focus on during the day… the experiences that have the ability to create happiness.

Happiness doesn’t just happen….happiness is a choice.

Third, happiness is a by-product that comes without effort into our lives the moment we stop “pushing the river”. In other words, when we begin to accept the reality of “what is” in each moment and each experience. When we have learned to flow with life and stop attempting to control reality and the universe.

Too often, our unconscious childhood primitive ego creates unhappiness when it attempts to “push the river”; when it tries to force reality to conform with:

  • our beliefs,
  • our expectation,
  • our assumptions, and
  • our worldviews (how we think the world “should” function).

Reality is “what is”. When reality (“what is”) fails to conform or agree with our unconscious primitive ego and it’s never-ending need to be “right”, we will very quickly experience powerlessness, unhappiness and depression. Stated simply…..reality doesn’t create unhappiness. Reality just “is”.

But reality can be very hard on our ego’s inflexible beliefs, our ego’s inflexible world views, our ego’s expectations, and our ego’s assumptions when we attempt to unconsciously “push the river”.

And lastly, happiness is achieved without effort when we choose to embrace gratitude. When we focus on “what is” and “what we do have” with gratitude. Now some will say that accepting “what is” with gratitude is nothing more than powerless complacency… that we are giving up our goals and our dreams. That we are unwilling to take responsibility for our lives. That we are acting like complacent sheep.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of endlessly lamenting and focusing our life-energy on what we “don’t have”, gratitude for what we “do have” allows us to focus our life-energy on actually achieving the life goals and dreams we want in our lives. Stated differently, when our life-energy is continually focused on what we “don’t have”… it quickly creates an overwhelming sense of powerlessness, despair, and unhappiness.


Happiness is not an object. It’s not something we can achieve directly.

Happiness is always the by-product of the choices we make… choosing to add value to the world, the choice to add value to the lives of others, our choice of attitude, the experiences we choose to focus on, and most importantly, our choice to accept the reality of  “what is” rather than rejecting reality by attempting to “push the river”.

Stated simply, unhappiness is simply a symptom we create for ourselves when our unconscious childhood primitive ego attempts to “push the river” and force the reality of “what is” to conform with our wishes and expectations.

When we awaken our consciousness to these simple concepts and realities; living a happy successful life and achieving our life goals and dreams all begin to happen effortlessly.

As I teach my clients, awakening to these simple realities about “happiness” is easy. Simple. Anyone can do it. Happiness is a no-brainer.

The challenge of a happy life of course… is remaining awake.


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