THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

By: MIGHTY PURSUIT TEAM

Human beings are “meaning machines”. This is not something that we have to manufacture or force. Meaning is something that comes naturally to us. We all long for something more, so we laser in on things that we think will bring lasting happiness and fulfillment. The problem we run into is if the thing we are pursuing ends up being less than we hoped for. This is often the case for those who have climbed the mountains of fame, success, wealth, beauty, power and pleasure, only to find that it didn’t supply them with the feeling they were looking for. In and of themselves, all of these things are morally neutral. There are both good and bad to them, benefits and drawbacks. For example, it is true that our lives may improve if we are able to achieve a certain level of wealth. We no longer have to worry about the stress of money, and having your basic needs met can leave you with a sense of security. That’s a great thing. But the pursuit of wealth goes haywire when we place an excessive amount of importance on it and believe that it can do something for us that it cannot. Greed has its way and money then corrupts. In this way, it acts like a false summit. Imagine hiking up a mountain and thinking you are about to get to the top, only to realize that you have so much farther to go. It becomes a black hole, and no amount of effort pursuing that thing will bring us our desired result. In the 2004 film The Girl Next Door, Timothy Olyphant's character popularized the phrase "is the juice worth the squeeze?" Meaning, we should all consider whether the effort we are putting in to achieve a goal will supply us with the happiness and fulfillment we are looking for. So who better to explore this question with than those who have gotten to the other side?

BEAUTY

It’s estimated that 90% of women experience some level of dissatisfaction with their bodies. The pressure of beauty standards has never been greater than it is in the present moment. This influences our desire to get plastic surgery, as we think that if we change our outward appearance it would lead to a sense of inner peace. We are convinced that our struggles will cease to exist, and we will finally be happy and content with ourselves. However, it was Halle Berry, once considered the most beautiful woman in the world, who said that, “Being thought of as beautiful has spared me nothing in life. No heartache, no trouble. Love has always been difficult. Beauty is essentially meaningless and it is always transitory.”

FAME

The obsession with fame has reached a fever pitch.  In our culture, being famous is seen as the holy grail of life. Many people actually value it more than wealth or beauty, and see fame as a pathway to love, social validation and attention. We think that nothing could be better than having a stadium full of people chanting our name, or having people constantly come up to us on the street to tell us we are their hero. But it was Brad Pitt who said that fame “is everything you didn’t sign up for”, while Justin Bieber said that, “people see all the glam and amazing stuff, but they don’t know the other side. This life can rip you apart.”  How so? Megan Fox fills in the gaps, “what people don’t realize is that fame, whatever your worst experience in high school, when you were being bullied by those 10 kids in high school, fame is that, but on a global scale, where you’re being bullied, by millions of people constantly.”

WEALTH

Many of us would outwardly say that money doesn't buy happiness. But we still act as if it does. We think that if we can just climb up the socioeconomic ladder, all our problems will be solved.  Since financial problems can be a severe source of stress, especially for those that are just getting by, it is true that money does bring about a sense of security. And money can potentially give you freedom to pave your own career path. These are beautiful things, but money itself doesn’t automatically equate to happiness. Money will not help you build your character. Money won’t help you fix relationships that have been fractured – at least not beyond a superficial sense. And money will not help you become a more loving person, which is an essential trait for meaning and fulfillment. It was David Rubenstein, one of the wealthiest people in the world, who said that “some of the most tortured souls I know are very wealthy people, and some of the happiest people in the world, like my parents, never had any money.”

PLEASURE

We live in the most-dopamine rich culture in human history. There are more outlets for pleasure than ever before. For men especially, they see someone like Dan Bilzerian, and idealize the lifestyle of having sex with tons of women. As we see with Leonardo DiCaprio's character in The Wolf of Wall Street, we start to believe that partying and having fun is where happiness will be found. But it was Bilzerian who said, “Pleasure seeking will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you wanna stay, and cost you more than you’re willing to pay.”  We discuss this further in our conversation with Dan on the Mighty Pursuit Podcast here.

SUCCESS

The pursuit of success has gained some serious steam in recent decades. At times, it can feel like everything around us is trying to convince us of the idea that success will lead to happiness.  Our school systems, our parents, our peers, our role models. Perhaps more than at any other point in human history, your list of accomplishments has become synonymous with your identity and sense of worth. But it is Brian Chesky, the founder and CEO of Airbnb, who said that “when I started Airbnb.. what I felt would make me happy was becoming incredibly successful.. no one ever told me how lonely it would get.. sometimes trying to become successful and climbing a mountain is running away from something, because you think that what you are isn’t enough and if you become more, you’ll become something. It’s almost like I had to go on this entire journey to realize I had everything I needed before I even started the journey.. that the thing that gave me the greatest life satisfaction was a thing I didn’t even need success to achieve.”

POWER

Power is often the byproduct of money, fame and/or success. And at the end of the day, the fixation with power really has to do with feeling in control or having the influence to create change. Recently, Forbes created an interactive blog that examined the perks of power. They observed how tech titans can "paralyze the World Wide Web with the flip of a switch – effectively causing mass panic, crippling the global economy, and putting an end to selfies, once and for all." When we think of power, we envision a life where we no longer have to put up with someone else telling us what to do. We are now the ones calling the shots and in-control of our own destiny. But it was also Chesky, who leads a company with 7,000 employees, that said that  “being the only one in power is actually quite lonely”. Human beings are social animals, and while leaders are necessary in any society, the idea that power itself will bring lasting happiness is simply not true.

NOW WHAT?

Learning from people who have achieved these things helps us put them in their proper context. There can be value and utility in all of these things. But we start to go off-course when we view them with rose-colored glasses, thinking that they can do something they cannot. It was Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar who coined the term arrival fallacy, which he defined as the “illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.” So why do these goals fail to deliver? Because they are all really about a deeper need that we are trying to meet. Power is about control. Wealth is about security. Fame and beauty are about approval and affirmation. Success is about meaning and purpose. At best, these goals may meet that need temporarily. But each of them are finite — meaning we could lose them at any moment. Beautiful people age. Fame fades. And we’re all going to die, so how much power do we really have? But there’s another reason they don’t deliver, and that is because they can easily become self-indulgent. Since they are hard to achieve, it can lead to an inflated sense of self. And self-indulgence is at odds with nearly every measure of fulfilling existence — namely love, connection and helping others. This is why David Rubinstein can say, “some of the most tortured souls I know are very wealthy people.” A life focused on self is inherently empty. We all need a framework that accounts for the ups and downs of life, and keeps us focused on what matters most. Happiness is an inside job, and it is only possible when we understand how all the puzzle pieces of life work together. This involves every part of us — mind, body and spirit. Here’s our approach at Mighty Pursuit.