“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” - Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie
Albom’s quote sums up perfectly one of the fundamental reasons why many in our society are unhappy. We are chasing the wrong things.
We have heard it all before in theory. We have seen the viral posts of the top regrets people have on their deathbed, and not once does “I wish I responded to that email during dinner” make it near that list.
We know that we should make more time for our family. We know we should tell our loved ones how much we appreciate them. We know we should do more to show our love and gratitude. We know we should slow down. We know we should be more present. We should. We should. But we don’t.
And we keep doing the same things that keep us in a cyclical quest for fulfillment and happiness – a circle that loops without end. We place work as a priority over relationships. Exercise, making time to see close friends or taking time for some R&R never quite makes it to the top of the “to do” list. The words “should” and “some day” repeat constantly in our vocabulary. We always keep some communication or entertainment device switched on so we feel productive with every waking moment we have. We buy things. We get bored of those things. So we buy new things. Bigger, better, shinier things.
Yet we’re still not happy. Studies show that depression rates have tripled in the US in the last two decades. Anti-depressant prescriptions such as Prozac have increased by 40% in the last four years alone. It appears that people in North America are getting sadder, not happier. The current system of how we define happiness, and consequently our means of getting it…is simply not working.
Shawn Achor discusses in his book, The Happiness Advantage that the traditional mentality of “If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. If I’m more successful, then, I will be happier” is broken. He explains that every time your brain has a success you just change the goalpost of what success looks like. If happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there.
Achor isn’t implying that people stop working hard or creating financial and professional success. He is however, suggesting that if you base your happiness on success goals, you will never be happy, because that goalpost is a constant moving target.
In the rush of life, the race to the top, and with the perception that happiness is the result of success and materialistic milestones; we often forget that everything we need to be happy is already right in front of us. Our health, our family, our friends, our societal contributions, our perspective, and our gratitude – these are the ingredients for joy. Everything we need is right here, right now.
The question is, what are you doing with what you already have? Do you nurture your relationships or keep them on cruise control until a crash requires you to pay more attention? Are you proactive in maintaining good health or will you wait until illness gives you a wake up call? Are you present in the moments you share with the people you love?
Are you chasing the right things?