9 Common Pursuits That Rob Us of Happiness


“Happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of life.”

Happiness. We look for it in different places. Some of us hope to buy it. Some think we can earn it. Others look for it in a new job, a new relationship, or a new accomplishment.

But one thing remains: happiness is something we all desire. We were designed to experience it.

Why then, does it appear at times to be so elusive? How can a society search so desperately for something, but still struggle to find it?

Maybe it is because the pursuits we have set before us as a means to find it are actually keeping us from it.

Consider these 9 pursuits and how they may be distracting us from happiness. Each of them are common in our lives and in our world. But  rather than contributing to our happiness, they may be robbing us of it.

9 Common Pursuits That Rob Us of Happiness

1. Following the crowd. The crowd rarely has our best interests in mind. Instead, they seek their own benefit. Scientists call this crowd mentality. And more often than not, following the crowd leads to destructive behaviors rather than life-giving. We would be wise to seek input into our lives from other sources than the popular perceptions of the day.

2. Trying to please everybody. Bill Cosby said it this way, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” We are never going to please everybody. At some point, we will hold an unpopular opinion—one that gives us meaning and purpose and passion. And when we do, we ought to hold on to it desperately.

3. Chasing wealth. Studies confirm it over and over again: once our most basic needs have been met, money contributes very little to our overall happiness. And yet, we continue to pursue more as if it holds the secret key to lasting joy. But those who desire riches bring temptation to themselves and are often caught in a trap. Happiness is never the byproduct of chasing wealth.

4. Desiring a picture-perfect life. Happiness is not something we discover only after everything is perfect with our lives (our jobs, our appearance, our relationships). If that were the case, none of us would ever experience happiness. This world is imperfect—always will be. But happiness can still be found once we realize perfection is not a prerequisite.

5. Building our own kingdom. The size of our universe shrinks dramatically when we place ourselves at the center. Living selfishly for our own personal gain will never produce lasting happiness and fulfillment. Our lives are designed to be lived for something far greater. And only those who discover the hidden joy of living for others will find a happiness that truly lasts.

6. Entertaining distraction. Our world has become a constant feed of information, noise, and entertainment. Each distraction enters our mind with one goal: Gain control of our attention and resources. Those who sacrifice their resources to unlimited curiosity will never find the mental or financial capacity to become something greater.

7. Fighting for recognition. Searching for happiness in recognition is a losing endeavor. The world will never give you the respect or accolades you so desperately desire. They are all too busy fighting for their own. You will need to find it elsewhere.

8. Succumbing to fear. If given the chance, fear will always cripple. It will steal your life and potential. Living your fullest life will require courage in the face of fear. Sometimes you will fail. But be strong, most of the time, you will succeed—or become better because of it.

9. Searching for it around the next corner. Happiness is not something to be chased. It is a decision to be made. (tweet that)

And you have everything you need right now to choose it.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Great Post Joshua. In our pursuit for happiness we are being robbed of it… how true..

    I guess people are just too used to feeling happy this way. They do not know better or do not have the time to find a better, more easier way to create happiness.

    Thank you for these pointers.

    • Nancy M says

      Thanks, Neil … ” In our pursuit for happiness we are being robbed of it”. Those are my thoughts in a nutshell, too. I think we’ve become conditioned to look for happiness in the next best thing or that something is better than what we have or can create. It’s a vicious cycle that never ends.

      I believe that’s why it’s crucial to strip down to the basics – purge and simplify in the tangible & intangible sense.

      Soon enough, layer by layer, we begin to see that less is more and happiness is closer than we think.

  2. says

    Great post. I have to admit, fear is my most common stumbling block. Even though I know rationally the things I worry most about almost never end up happening, it is hard to shake them.

    Good reminder here that I am only shooting myself in the foot by letting anxiety get the better of me.

    • Judy says

      I go through the exact same thing! You echoed my struggle. It does help to know we are not alone when these feelings rise up.

      • Antoinette says

        wise decision, Joshua. One thing I have learned is that there are 3 sides to every story – my side – your side – and the truth. We all come at situations with our own perspectives. Your blog was great. It is a determined decision to not follow what the world tells you is ‘the norm’. The ‘Kiss Principle’ is always the best – keep it simple, sweetheart! :)

      • Marina says

        They are really not accusations, they are personal histories being shared, and to pretend ignorance of an issue in our social fabric seems disingenous.

  3. norman says

    Please please don’t join the bandwagon of bloggers with this horrible “tweet that” link. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’ quite an arrogant attitude. Everytime I see such a tweet that link, it’s like the author is telling me: “You know I’m pretty cool, and what I just wrote here is so uber-cool, you’ll want to tell everybody about it.” Really hate it.

    • joshua becker says

      Thanks Norman. I do appreciate that feedback. As you noticed, it’s something I have been experimenting with recently. I certainly don’t intend to come off as arrogant. But I think some people find it helpful to have the author point out phrasing that summarizes the theme of the post. My early observations seem to indicate that almost just as many readers enjoy sharing the post via quote (http://bit.ly/1jYBBoE) as sharing via title (http://bit.ly/1kGbiCc).

    • Shane says

      Simple. If you don’t want to follow the twit, er, tweet, then don’t follow it. You make your choice and let others make theirs.

      Remember? Happiness is doing your thing, not necessarily my thing.

  4. Paula says

    Thank you for your blog!!! I so appreciate what’s at the heart of it. You speak my heart and affirm my deepest convictions most days. Other’s you stretch me and help me grow and I am grateful for it! When one writes a blog, you open yourself up to a lot of knit picking, potential criticism and even in some extreme cases hatred and persecution. Don’t stop. Don’t let the knit pickers win. I’ve also felt led to write a blog and if I do I’m sure I’ll say things that people get hung up on or feel the need to express their hatred to me over. Frankly, it’s that fear that causes me to hesitate. I’m not bold by nature. I’ve been group attacked, even persecuted for my convictions before. Three years later, the leaders I was speaking to fired a few key folks and the new guys did the very things I was asking for. Affirmation from God, but no acknowledgement from men… and that’s ok. I get you! The heart of what you say is true and greatly beneficial. If we were at a dinner party, the critics wouldn’t hang on a few anecdotal comments and miss the main subject entirely. I don’t know why they do it with the written word, but they do. I’m not opposed to critique either, but to spotlight a few little things that weren’t spot on and completely ignore a large praiseworthy work that has so much brilliance and insight is the very essence of what you’re trying to bring to light. Don’t stop!

  5. everlearning says

    Wonderful! All your points are right on and I thank you for putting them out there.

    I agree about the “tweet that” link. I think people know what they want to share and how to do it. Ironically, by adding that link, it sort of hits on the pursuits of “Following the crowd’ and ‘Fighting for recognition.’ However, I don’t believe that is your true intent, but I know you’re open to feedback.

  6. Judy says

    Hi Josh-

    Just to introduce myself…I am a Christian and have been following your website for two years now! Minimalism has changed my life for the better. I read your posts everyday! :) Now what I really need is some courage. I’ve been at the same job for 10 years. I am treated poorly…and know I can do better. CHANGE is the key. As a seek new employment, I thank you for reminding me that I can do this! God’s favor and blessings will chase me down. He will open new doors for me. Keep up the great work Josh. God bless you—and did I say THANKS! :)

  7. says

    I love this! I recently wrote something along the same lines for Owning Pink. It’s interesting how in our pursuit of happiness we come to learn that those things we strive for thinking happiness is at the end of the tunnel is false thinking. Perfection is also another thing I beleive we strive for to no end that ends up leaving us feeling unfulfilled and tired.

    Great read! Thank you for sharing.

  8. says

    Thanks for helping me take a deeper look at happiness. It seems like happiness is can’t be searched for, caught, and enjoyed. My experience is that it can’t be repeated. Something that made me happy once, didn’t the next time. Then there are other times where something that once bothered me, made me happy the next time. Knowing this has made me cut back chasing happiness. Feeling happy these days shows up in surprising ways.

  9. says

    Thanks for this post. Thought provoking as usual. I think the hardest one is to be happy before things are ‘perfect’. It’s just another facet of ‘Be Here Now’ which I sometimes forget.

  10. says

    Great post to start my day!

    Thanks for the reminders. The herd/crowd mentality I often fall back to when I feel like I’m not doing “well” for myself is one of my weaknesses. Individuality is something quite new (and difficult) when you grew up being expected to follow a certain path. -_-

  11. Fiona says

    Great list – and no. 6 convicted me. I am way too ‘Eve-like’…acting on my curiosity, and investigating every news item and ‘feed’ on FB and the computer……which costs me huge chunks of time and sets me up to procrastinate…….more!
    Thanks so much for this article, – getting off FB and computer now!!
    :) :) :)

  12. says

    Numbers 4, 5, and 9. This article is wonderful, so true, and so inspiring. Thanks for pointing out the obvious so articulately. Now I must go log off the internet and stop being distracted…

  13. Melissa says

    Great post, a lot of this is so true. I do feel that most adults want happiness but stress them self out so much they cause health issues that make happiness impossible. Its hard being happy while fighting depression but it can be done.

    I am trying to show my son that happiness does not come from stuff but from the memories we make with them with other people. He is learning pretty good.

  14. Jamie says

    Entertaining Distraction–yes! Not only the constant entertainment input, but the type of input! I’ve had to exert lots of discipline to give up shows that were bringing me down, and instead open a book or do a task. After watching a very popular TV show all the way to the bitter end (about a chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin), I realized that I was making myself miserable, putting myself in a funk that took days to climb out of, and giving over scads of time to a pursuit with absolutely no return! I’m trying to watch only those shows or movies (if I watch at all) that are either Positively Enriching, or at least so Socially Significant that I can justify the strain on my emotions.

    • says

      Your posts have seemed a litlte ponderous recently suggesting change. I can’t really offer advice, I fell into work that I love rather by accident but it did help that I just kept saying yes to everything, not really advice as I think most people are like that. Have you considered getting out there and teaching face to face? You might need a PTLLs qualification but why not look at your local authority adult education and see if they need craft tutors. Gosh sorry, this is not meant to be a lecture , it just tumbled out.

  15. says

    I would like to add “guilt” to this list because I for many years lived in the sea of guilt before I could free myself from self punishement and finally feel how it was like to be happy. Great post Joshua!

  16. Violet says

    So true. My legal colleagues are always goading me to buy a bigger house and fancier clothes and a new car, but I don’t need that. I find that once the novelty wears off from what you buy, you go right back to the pre-purchase level of happiness. So I’ll live modestly without the extra stress.

  17. says

    The reminder that “now” is what is a given and the future is a gift was perfect timing and had me reconnect to a good dose of happiness in the moment. Grateful. :)

  18. Iska Waran says

    In general, I agree with the concept of minimalism, but I would contend with you somewhat. The main problem is a lack of contentment. Being content with what you have. One can have a career that might seem – to an outsider – to be one of discontented striving, but where the person in question is motivated not so much by income or possessions but by doing their job well and providing for their family. In other words, working hard and making a lot of money is not always the mark of someone whose life is out of balance. Other people – the clinically depressed in many cases – can mistakenly think that if only they could detach themselves from their: job, location, spouse, even children that they would achieve bliss. (The ol’ “follow your bliss”.) They might think they’re “becoming minimalist” but really they are just as much victims of a lack of contentment as the spendaholic whose purchases leave them hollow. There are probably more people whose contentment void stems from their materialism, but there are some people whose contentment void stems from not being able to accept the perfectly acceptable life they have, without regard to their economic station. Sometimes quitting your job, selling your house and moving to Greece doesn’t actually make a person happy. And if you think that working too hard is stressful, try being flat-assed busted after having quit a perfectly good job. Don’t forget that young Greeks are leaving their beautiful country in search of jobs. In many cases, people just need to be content with what they have – whatever it is, wherever it is.

  19. says

    Spot on article, Joshua, you summed it up really good! I always enjoy reading your blog, but it’s posts like this one that make me come back more often.
    Keep writing!

  20. Laura says

    I keep coming back to this quote ;however, I don’t remember who said it. “The coat of “have” is never big enough.”

    So relate to your writing.
    Thank you

  21. Valiente says

    May I emphasize the statements:

    (1) Those who discover the hidden joy of living for others will find happiness that truly lasts;

    (2) Happiness is not something to be chased, it is a decision to be made.

    Practice these two things and you’ll become a better person. I have done them and am continuing them everyday. I am always inspired. Thanks Sir Joshua.

  22. Hannah says

    so true. Praying for someone dear to me to get a hold of this. I think it would zap his depression he constantly battles.

  23. says

    #4 is the cornerstone of my personal vision amd blogsite- which is “construct a life, not a profile. Reconnect your hearts.” The picture-perfect idealism has been perpetuated by social media sites and the so-called “reality” shows, that I feel are exemplifying lives that are shells with no substance. Souless, heartless, polished profiles. That is why people like you Josh and the work you are doing is so necessary to counter-balance, and offer meaningful solutions to the pursuit of a happier life. As always, Best~ Julie

  24. Baklavakay says

    Wow. You have really made me think here with #6, Joshua, because you are saying it like no one ever has before. While I am an adult to “prides” myself on keeping a good distance from using Facebook, the cell phone, web “games” (anything I don’t perceive as being educational or informative), I am definitely keeping myself from “advancing” because of my “unlimited curiosity”. I excuse myself from advancing myself in other ways because I think, “well, I’ll just watch this documentary….it is educational, after all”, but to be curious about everything can also mean I will master nothing. Most importantly, I use the educational aspect of entertaining distractions as an excuse to keep myself from really advancing – as enjoyable as the distractions are. Thank you for the really good reminder that even “educational” distractions can still be distractions if you allow them to constantly take up your time from living in “the real world”, and that, while unlimited curiosity is fun and somewhat of a blessing (I think), it can also get in the way of enjoying the simplicity of living.

  25. bill b says

    I recall, from reading Buddhist writings, that there are many good things that evade pursuit and must be seen out of the corner of ones eye. I think that, for me, it is a principle that defines the futility of attachment and your nine principles clarify that a bit more for me. Thank you.

  26. Becky says

    “But happiness can still be found once we realize perfection is not a prerequisite”. That really struck a chord with me. I may have to put in on a post it note in many places! Thank you and great advice!

  27. Richard says

    Nice article for those of us that live in a utopian society, where the world is a safe place. Fear has its purpose too. We live in a world of angels and devils, sinners and beggers, wolves and sheep. In a society were people all shared similar beliefs, and abided by the social norms, this article would be biblically epic. Alas, in some regions not so far from home you’d only be conditioning yourselves to becoming cattle, a food source for the vampires of the world that feed off the veins of your hard work and good intentions.

    • Maria says

      I totally enjoyed what you wrote Mr. Becker especially the idea in #2 –I totally got engrossed in trying to please another individual that when he hurt me I was not able to get back up. It shattered my whole life but now I realize that I cannot find true happiness in an individual. Happiness has to come from within myself and I cannot rely on others for it. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

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