From Marianne: Why Chasing Happiness is Futile

This is a guest post from Marianne Yates of A Life Set Free.

Happiness. We all want it. Most of us don’t usually have it. Our lives lack time, money, things, a partner, a family, whatever. Injustice seems to prevail in much of the world. We’re bombarded with tragedies on the news nearly every day. In fact it would seem that the world is actually set up to make us unhappy!

“Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.”

-Fyodor Dostoevsky

No wonder it’s so hard to grasp this thing called Happiness!

We also believe that Happiness is unattainable, so we don’t really pursue it. We believe it’s one of those things that either no one actually has, or it’s something only the lucky few have, people like enlightened Buddhist monks.

Ultimately Your Happiness is Your Responsibility.

It is something you feel in your bones and you can’t help but feel it and share it. I know you’ve heard this before, but it comes from within, not from anything that is outside of you. The perfect job, the perfect ring, the perfect child won’t make you happy. What makes you happy is YOU.

I’ve provided a few action-steps that I use myself to discover the Happiness within me. Try them on and discover the Happiness that resides within you.

Be grateful.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”

-Helen Keller

Accept things as they are and practice gratitude for it.

Every morning, on your way to work, school, or wherever you are headed, turn off the radio or your mp3 player and say out loud (or write if you can) all the things you are grateful for in your life. You might be surprised at the things you discover. I know I was the first time I did this.

Have goals.

“Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.”

-Benjamin Disraeli

Do you have goals you are currently striving towards? If not, look deep inside yourself and discover what it is that YOU really want. (Not what your child, your partner, your friend, or your family wants). Write these things down and imagine yourself achieving one of those goals. Now think about all the possible ways you can make it happen. Think outside the box and get crazy, you never know what kind of options you might come up with.

If you’re having trouble with this exercise, I highly suggest you read The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. It will help you to look at all the possibilities in your life in a different way than you ever have before.

Always have a goal you are working towards. It gives us purpose.

Invest in the process, not the outcome.

Because actions are completely in our control and outcomes are completely OUT of our control, focus on controlling your actions and reactions. To read more about this, check out Robert Wall’s series on Control.

Enjoy the process of getting to your goals, even when it’s difficult. You are learning something new with every step that you take. It’s ok to ask for help and it’s even ok to fail πŸ™‚

Invest everything you have no matter what the outcome. When you do this, you will find that every day is a blast.*

Be compassionate. Give.

“Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

If you want happiness for an hour – take a nap.

If you want happiness for a day – go fishing.

If you want happiness for a year – inherit a fortune.

If you want happiness for a lifetime – help someone else.

-Chinese Proverb

Giving of ourselves is truly the biggest key to discovering Happiness. The Dalai Lama says, it is our sole purpose to help others. “… whether we love humanity or not, we must realize that we are part of it. My future depends entirely on the future of humanity, and so I am compelled to take care of humanity. That is why being compassionate is actually in my own best interest. And a symptom of my own peace of mind is that I can share comfort with others around me.

“Altruism is the best source of happiness. There is no doubt about that.”

To learn more about how you can bring more altruism into your life, tune-in to my weekly series on people who are making a difference and see if you can find some inspiration of your own to ignite change in the world, even on a small scale. Or find a volunteer opportunity by searching the resources at Changing the World on a Tuesday Night.

Choose happiness.

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

-Abraham Lincoln

It sounds simple and guess what? It is. If you want to be happy, you have to choose to be happy. Don’t let your negative thoughts or experiences take that away from you. You have every right to be happy no matter what.


For more tips and insight on how to re-discover your inner happiness, check out Hanuiloa’s post, Full on Happiness.

Being happy is not always easy, but that’s only because we stand in our way. If there’s anything I want you to take from this article, it’s this:

Happiness is not a goal. It’s something you can have right now. Invest in the process of being happy. Don’t look for it. It’s already within you. Just be it. Be happy.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot one more:

Smile. πŸ™‚

I’ll leave you with this amazing TED video to ponder titled Plug Into Your Hard Wired Happiness. (If you can’t view the video, click here to see it on

*adapted from Srikumar Rao

Marianne Yates blogs at A Life Set Free and is currently on a mission to change the world. Subscribe today to get inspiration on changing the world from her weekly interview series on regular people who are out there making a difference.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Google Buzz
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • MySpace


  1. Pingback: Weekly Wrap-Up (4/8/11) « A Life Set Free
  2. Hi Gip and Marianne!

    This is a wonderful perspective Marianne. I’m really happy I took the time to watch the video too — what an eye opener.

    I can be so guilty of thinking “if.” IF I do this then I will feel _____. IF I accomplish this then I will be _____. The blanks don’t really matter. What matters is realizing that no matter what happens, or what we achieve, we will still BE exactly the same. Until we become satisfied with who we are, right now, we will never be able to truly be happy.

    Thanks for some very sobering truths to think about.
    Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Friday Favorites!

  3. I think happiness is overrated. Most of the time it is linked to something that is outside of you such as events, things, people or possessions.

    If you are lucky enough to catch happiness, it satisfies you for that moment and then it is gone leaving you wondering what to chase next.

    I agree that you are responsible for your own happiness but I would prefer to seek the inner quality of joy instead.

    Thought provoking post.
    Andre recently posted Comment on Have Your Mental Foundations Cracked by Stringfree

    1. Hi Andre, I’m interested in your use of the words happiness and joy – would you mind describing in more detail how you interpret these? I’ve always thought they were basically the same thing.

      And, having said that, I would agree that inner joy (or for me, inner happiness) is the only happiness there is, and is certainly something we can work on. An excellent resource for this is

      1. Interesting that you say that Andre. After I submitted this post to Gip, i found the following quote:

        β€œJoy seems to me a step beyond happiness. Happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.” ~Adela Rogers St. John?

        However that said. I agree with you that we should be looking inwards for happiness and/or joy instead of outwards, which is why we need to invest in the process, not outcomes (something outside of us) and in goals and attitude.
        marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted Weekly Wrap-Up 4-8-11

      2. Joy is an inner quality that is developed like love and peace. It is not an emotion that comes and goes but it is constant no matter what the external circumstances are.
        If I feel an emotion called happiness because of an external object – person or thing, it is a temporary condition. The external things then become the source of my joy.

        The best way to describe this is using peace. You make a choice to remain at peace within yourself no matter what the external situation. No matter how much you are provoked or tested, you choose to remain at peace. If you get angry or lose your peace, you decided to do that which then caused the resultant emotions and feelings.

        Basically joy is a decision which results in the emotion called happiness.

      3. I don’t think of joy and happiness as the same thing at all. Happiness is a passing fancy and often external. If you have joy, even part time, you know it. It’s a peace that stays around even when there’s nothing in particular to be happy about. In fact, you can be unhappy with a circumstance — a death, not enough money, a bad relationship — but still have joy.


        1. I am curious if I had used the word Joy throughout my post instead of Happiness, would the post have had a different meaning for you? I understand completely what you are both saying about the distinction between joy and happiness and I stand corrected for not using the word Joy, which is what I meant to speak about.

          However, in essence, aren’t we saying the same thing?

          Do you mean to suggest that my suggestions above (be grateful, have goals, invest in the process, be compassionate & smile) are not ways to experience Joy?

          I hope I am not coming across as confrontational, I am just trying to fully understand because this is something I am working on every day.
          marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted Weekly Wrap-Up 4-8-11

          1. Most conversations I’ve heard when asking people what they want out of life are along the line of wanting to be happy.

            Very few people ask whether you are joyful but they do ask what makes you happy.

            Many people sacrifice and do what they do for the sake of being happy.
            To achieve this they chase after happiness which is futile as your title aptly puts it.

            Your suggestions to being happy are spot on but my belief is that joy is the root and happiness is the fruit.

          2. Andre, that sums it up perfectly! Thank you so much for expanding the conversation! πŸ™‚ I am no expert on happiness nor joy, but I sure am on the path towards it and always learning!
            marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted Weekly Wrap-Up 4-8-11

  4. Hi Marrianney you’ve been a busy girl, writing here and over at Jo’s. It feels a bit like musical blogs at the moment. Looking forward to your story.

    Now happiness is a bit of ‘thing’ for me. I’ve made quite a study of it.

    When you say ‘most of us don’t usually have it (happiness)’, who do you mean? That kind of implies you don’t, and you always seem very happy, as do most of the people in this blogging community. I’ve certainly created happiness/joy in my life.

    It took me a long time though and one of the biggest blockages I had was people telling me that “happiness comes from within”. Obvisoulsy they are right and you are right too in what you’ve said but I think that principle needs to be explained further. It had me stuck because I kept thinking that there was something wrong with me in not being able to be happy with myself. What I learned was that “I had the capacity within me to be happy” and that subtle difference was very important when I was unhappy. I had to take responsibility and change my circumstances. In hindsight I may not have had to do what I did but I did have to do something.

    Other important components to happiness are creating meaningful and loving relationships, taking care of our bodies and spending out days working at something that is aligned with our authentic self.

    Have a happy weekend πŸ˜‰ (Oh and I don’t think you can get to joy without being happy first)


    1. Hi Deb!
      Yes, it certainly does seem like musical blogs doesn’t it?? πŸ™‚

      In answer to your first question, I guess it was more a rhetorical question. I do have happiness in my life, when i CHOOSE to have it. I still get caught up in the circumstances of life and become unhappy because I don’t have the outcome I expected or as Andre says, I have banked all my happiness on something external. I’m human and I hardly think I am the only one that does this. πŸ™‚

      Finding true happiness and joy is a constant practice for me. I have to keep having that peace within me even when I get tested.

      What you said:
      “What I learned was that β€œI had the capacity within me to be happy” and that subtle difference was very important when I was unhappy. I had to take responsibility and change my circumstances.”
      is exactly what I was hoping to get across in my post, but maybe I did not do such a good job πŸ˜‰

      Thanks for the comments, you always have such insightful comments!
      marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted Weekly Wrap-Up 4-8-11

      1. I agree that we can make ourselves unnecessarily unhappy at times because things don’t go our way but I also think that that gives us contrast. If we had no contrast to our happiness how would we ever know we had it? I think it’s OK, natural and probably necessary to experience some unhappiness within the boundaries of an otherwise happy and joyful life.

        1. that’s a very good point Deb! we do need the contrast or else life might just get a little dull wouldn’t it? πŸ˜‰
          marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted Weekly Wrap-Up 4-8-11

  5. Marianney,
    Very thought provoking and comment inducing post! Before I forget thanks for linking to our little happiness article! πŸ™‚ I do agree with some of the thoughts others have shared I find a great distinction between joy and happiness. I have been in very unhappy circumstances and had a sense of well being, peace and joy bubble up on the inside of me that I knew would see me through until the circumstances changed. That is one essential aspect of happiness; I so agree with you it is a choice. We can choose to be upbeat on a grey day and smile when we feel like frowning and before you know it our mood lifts and we sense happiness. Joy is definitely that inward, overriding quality that is independant of circumstance. Mother Theresa possessed that quality in dire, sad circumstance and shared her joy with others. Joy tends to be longer lasting and happiness far more fleeting but I still think happiness is an emotion we can choose to embrace and share or squelch and be lessened by it’s lack. Thanks for sharing a great post! πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Gena, I appreciate the comment and I agree with you. I guess true inner joy for me, is still elusive. I need constant reminders that I don’t need to rely on external circumstances to be either happy or joyful. Maybe that’s why I wrote this post, because it is something I struggle with right now and it is what I am learning and I wanted to share.

      I hope I haven’t come across as claiming to know the direct path to Joy, because I certainly don’t!

      marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted Weekly Wrap-Up 4-8-11

  6. Another great post, Marianne! I love that video you posted at the end – I’d seen it before, I forget who first recommended it to me.

    What resonates most with me at the moment is your point about *choosing* happiness. I find that my natural tendency is to feel grumpy when I wake up in the morning, and I’ve been making a conscious effort to note all the reasons I have to feel happy instead! And anytime I start to feel frustrated/unhappy/in a bad mood, it often helps to just stop, smile, and actually say to myself, “I’d rather be happy.” That often really helps dissipate the funk!

    1. This is perfect Amy! I have a tendency to wake up grumpy as well and I think it’s habit. Lately, I have also been doing the same things as you and mentally changing my emotion on an instant just because I can. I admit, sometimes, my fiance is the one to point out my grumpiness before I’ve had a chance to catch myself! πŸ˜‰
      marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted Weekly Wrap-Up 4-8-11

      1. It really makes a difference to adjust your attitude from the moment you open your eyes in the morning. I’ve often allowed waking up with a headache or some other ailment derail my day, but even a less-than-perfect day physically can still be a great day.

Comments are closed.