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7 Ways Our Pursuit of Happiness has Gone Wrong

September 27th, 2021 5:18pm

7 Ways Our Pursuit of Happiness has Gone Wrong

Are you really happy? If not, do you know what it would take to make you happy? Sure, "I'll be happy when..." You fill in the blank. 

My observation is that most of us attribute happiness to safety and security. Don’t you remember when you were in high school? Didn’t it feel good when the “in” crowd accepted you? I recall when I made the track team, I felt really happy. The truth was that I was happy not as much for the accomplishment as I was about strutting around school wearing my track jacket and walking around with members of the team. It felt good. I was far from the most socially or academically successful kid in my school. So when I made the team, newfound confidence came over me, and I felt happy. And you might be thinking, “Leave it be, why analyze it. Happiness is happiness; let it be.”

But I can’t. Why? Because I have come to know that our pursuit of happiness is more about searching for safety and security.

So let’s see how when we think we are pursuing happiness, we seek a sense of security. 

1. I will be happy once I am: Accepted

Indeed, when we are accepted into a group, we have the security offered by the crowd. This security will likely cause us to be happy. Yet, looking at it more closely, we give up much of our autonomy and individuality. Moreover, being accepted into an organization or institution with an elite reputation can feel really good. But if doing so is to establish or maintain bragging rights of superiority, happiness will remain elusive for you.

2. I will be happy once I have enoughMoney

Money provides security because it purchases food, clothing, and shelter—vital ingredients for our safety. But money and the pursuit of it affords something else: the ability to be one-up from the next guy. Being one-up in this way seems to provide security, safety, and decreased vulnerability. However, those over whom you are one up will not feel so secure with your wealth and likely look to take it away somehow or not want to be your friend. 

3. I will be happy once I get:  Attention

Consciously or subconsciously, getting attention for attributes commonly associated with success can lead to a sense of confidence, thus security, and hence, happiness. Physical characteristics of beauty or physical strength are obvious ones.  Other attention-grabbing security blankets also include specific jobs that lead to fame and fortune. So when we strive for these things, we think happiness will follow. Yet it often doesn’t. That’s because the attention we seek, often below our level of awareness, is for others to notice we are above them. And no matter how hard we try, there will always be a whole host of other competitors.

4. I will be happy once I am: Being the Envy of Others

Similar to the item above, being the envy of others can bring a certain, albeit very sordid, sense of contentment. You may resist thinking that you could possess such emotions, but think about what you would do if you lived (in a very modest house) close to the neighborhood where the CEO of Coca-Cola lived. And although you acknowledge that Coca-Cola products are among the unhealthiest products, the wealth of the CEO would be hard for you and others not to envy. And, I would guess that most would readily offer up in conversation the fact that they live within such proximity to a person of such high stature. However, as I wrote above, when the quest is to be the envy of others, therefore sitting on top of the heap, you risk becoming a target (the Germans call it schadenfreude). And the CEO who may be happy being the envy of others may derive a sense of entitlement which ultimately sabotages happiness.

5. I will be happy once I am: Being In A Relationship

Before you find your soul mate, you must first discover your soul. Too many believe they will be happy when in a relationship with someone else. This belief is more to relieve loneliness and to protect us than any other reason. True happiness will come when two independent people come together with the only needs they have are the needs to grow and share their lives. When one needs the other for happiness, it becomes what is known as a co-dependent relationship.

6. I will be happy if I know: Others are Suffering More than Me

Indeed, this one would be tough to admit; think of the guilt you would feel. But haven’t you heard or uttered yourself these very words, “It could be worse.” Or, “I don’t have it have as bad as....” When we say these words, we say that others are worse off than us gives us some degree of security. And isn’t that what I’m talking about here? The place from where most of our happiness arises is a place of safety. Knowing that we could be worse off (like others) gives us some comfort. Now, I realize, some who are reading this are saying to me, “Speak for yourself, buddy. I’m not that selfish or cruel.” But, you see, such emotions come from our primitive nature—our Automatic Brain (AB)—which fires automatically, instantaneously, and often generates thoughts, behaviors, and yes, emotions that may be difficult for us, but in a crude, animalistic way afford us security.

7. I will be happy once I am: Resigned to Mediocrity

You have heard it, “Blessed are the poor.” Those who accept a simple life may indeed have found happiness. Yet, if one accepts this life because they fear others, they are committing to the same AB dynamics as the CEO above. This comfort zone may not permit the growth for which your true nature yearns and from which your true happiness arises.


Ultimately, true happiness comes from a place deep within, below the layers of our AB. When we recognize that our security—whether it is one-upping someone, staying in our comfort zone, or the object of someone’s love—is never the source of authentic happiness, we begin to gain access to our Divine nature. This nature is not influenced by our need to protect ourselves because it provides the ultimate safety. Believing, trusting, and taking direction from the Divine within will lead us to a profound and lasting sense of meaning and purpose. It will lead us to authentic and meaningful relationships. And guess to what that will direct us? That's right, happiness. 

© Dr. Charles F. Glassman, CoachMD

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