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How to Be Happy: Stop Looking for Happiness and Find Fulfilment Instead

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

We're conditioned to perceive happiness as the ultimate objective, but what if there's an alternative that not only provides greater satisfaction but is also more accessible?

Many people appear to be on an ongoing mission to seek happiness, a commendable yet demanding endeavour. This is largely because our concept of happiness is often likened to locating the Holy Grail, as if uncovering it equates to discovering the purpose of life. But what truly constitutes happiness, and should it indeed be our primary pursuit?

What Is Happiness?

Happiness encompasses emotions like joy, contentment, and excitement, but it's transient in nature. It's a fleeting sensation that ebbs and flows because life inevitably introduces other conflicting emotions such as unease, fear, anger, and sadness.

Many people believe that happiness can only be achieved at specific life milestones. For instance, if you believe that you can only attain happiness through a particular job, you might encounter difficulties, as it can be taken away from you unexpectedly. The constant pursuit of this elusive concept of happiness inherently implies that it is not currently present; it's something expected in the future, whether tomorrow or some other time.

Comparing Yourself to Others Undermines Happiness

Another issue with happiness is its frequent association with using others as a yardstick. The act of measuring our own lives against the carefully curated snapshots of happiness we encounter on social media can be highly problematic, primarily due to the misleading impression of continuous bliss these images often convey.

In actuality, social media doesn't provide an accurate depiction of other people's lives. Typically, people share posts that present the image they wish to project, portraying their dreams rather than reality. What's intriguing is how readily we accept these narratives, allowing them to convince us of our own inadequacies in comparison.

Constantly comparing ourselves to others can lead to an enduring sense of disappointment. Instead, it's more beneficial to gauge your progress by comparing yourself to where you were yesterday and assessing your interactions with the world around you.

What Does Fulfilment Mean?

Fulfilment involves the process of leading a meaningful life, where people pursue their passions and what holds importance to them. It typically results from making choices aligned with personal values and accomplishing goals guided by those values.

Living a life that is in harmony with our inner values and maintaining consistency in our actions generally leads to a deeper sense of fulfilment. It makes us feel more in charge of our lives by helping us take control from within, allowing us to have more say in how we experience things, and empowers us to live our lives in a way that aligns with the meaning we seek. In contrast, happiness is often influenced by external factors, leaving us vulnerable to outside influences and changing circumstances.

Changing Your Focus from Happiness to Fulfilment

While we are frequently conditioned to prioritise the pursuit of happiness, fulfilment offers a more enduring and versatile emotional foundation. Pursuing fulfilment can equip us with better coping mechanisms for a wide range of emotions, including disappointment, sadness, loss, and anger.

The objective is to shift our focus towards leading a meaningful and enriching life that aligns with our values. This entails embracing a spectrum of emotions, from joy and excitement to moments of boredom, disappointment, sadness, fear, anxiety, and even occasional embarrassment or shame. It also involves making choices that hold meaning, even when faced with discomfort or adversity, and remaining faithful to the kind of person, partner, or parent one aspires to be.

Ironically, when we ease our efforts to dictate our emotions, it often creates space for these feelings to arise naturally. Embracing the constant ebb and flow of emotions can make moments of joy even more precious and enjoyable when they do surface.

How To Create Fulfilment

People discover fulfilment through various avenues. Life may not always bring us moments of pure happiness, but there is always an opportunity to derive meaning and contentment from our experiences, which can be profoundly empowering. By shifting our thinking and broadening our perspective, we can consistently uncover the purpose in our lives.

Self-reflection: Reflect on the moments in your life when you felt happiest. Is there a common theme or recurring pattern? What was it about those experiences that held such significance for you? Consider whether you yearn for more of those moments in your life. Fulfilment transcends superficial associations with material possessions or societal benchmarks of happiness.

Prioritise others: Often, the most accessible path to finding meaning and fulfilment lies in focusing on others and how we can contribute to their well-being. Research highlights the gratification that volunteer work can bring.

Practice gratitude: Cultivating gratitude connects us to a greater sense of purpose. It fosters positive emotions, enhances well-being, and equips us to navigate challenges with resilience. While striving for more, it's essential to appreciate what you presently have. Find joy in your current circumstances and acknowledge your potential for growth and fulfilment.

Build connections: Ultimately, the cornerstone of fulfilment lies in relationships, human connections, and a sense of community, whether that community comprises family, a partner, or a close-knit group of friends. It's about bonding, connecting, and being part of something, rather than feeling isolated and disconnected.

External Factors Don't Create Happiness

At some point in life, often when we are old enough to grasp the concept of goals and achievements, we are taught that happiness is an aspiration tied to life's milestones — achieving promotions, accumulating wealth, graduating, marrying, and so on.

However, this perception of happiness creates a perpetual chase, with the target constantly moving. We place our happiness in the distant future, preventing us from savouring the present because we continuously believe that we can only be happy once we attain, achieve, or possess something specific.

Our lack of understanding about the sources of our happiness often leads us to believe that accumulating more money is the solution to our stress. However, this assumption is misguided. Studies reveal that having just enough income to elevate us slightly above the poverty threshold can indeed boost our happiness, but beyond that point, there is no meaningful connection between wealth and happiness.

It's a fallacy to believe that external factors, such as wealth, career or marital status have the power to create happiness. When we seek happiness externally, we relinquish control over our own well-being, placing our reliance on others to make us happy or on material possessions to fill the void within us.

Another challenge lies in how the quest for happiness is frequently centred on the misconception that it equates to constant joy and excitement. However, the human experience isn't built for perpetual exhilaration or joyfulness. When our primary focus is the pursuit of happiness, we may find ourselves in a predicament when these feelings naturally fluctuate. This can become a dilemma because if we wholeheartedly commit to the pursuit of unceasing happiness, we might end up feeling disheartened and less content when confronted with the reality that joy and excitement cannot endure indefinitely.

Attaining Happiness Can Be a Hard-to-Reach Objective

When we perceive happiness as a distant future goal, it remains perpetually beyond our reach. Failing to engage with the present moment means we avoid experiencing its full spectrum, which isn't always characterised by joy, happiness, or pleasure. Instead, it can encompass pain, sadness, loss, and disappointment. Consequently, we tend to suppress, deny, or distract ourselves from these emotions in our pursuit of that elusive goal.

Happiness, like all emotions, is transient. Grasping at it only makes it more elusive or results in a fragile, shallow form of happiness that cannot sustain us. Genuine happiness arises more naturally when we refrain from trying to force it and, instead, compassionately embrace all the emotions that arise. This shift in focus from exclusively pursuing happiness to accepting a range of emotions paradoxically allows these feelings to pass more swiftly, creating space for happiness and contentment.

Rejecting or repressing certain emotions hinders our ability to respond authentically and holistically to the world, both internally and externally. The human experience encompasses a wide array of emotions, from profound sorrow to deep joy and everything in between. By attempting to stifle other emotions, we inadvertently undermine our understanding of true joy. The issue lies in the pressure to maintain a constant state of euphoria, leading to pervasive inauthenticity in our lives.

When we fail to reach the societal benchmarks we believe are linked to happiness, such as achievements in success, wealth, or marriage, we often experience a profound sense of disappointment. This disappointment can manifest as self-criticism and guilt for not feeling content despite acquiring these desired "things."

People frequently become disillusioned and start to grapple with a sense of inner emptiness. This emptiness results from chasing goals instead of engaging in genuinely meaningful activities. Pleasure, joy, and satisfaction should derive from the act of doing, being, and having, rather than perpetually postponing them to a future that may never arrive.

Moreover, when we fixate on the pursuit of happiness, we not only presume that happiness is the innate and expected human state but also tend to believe that any failure to achieve it reflects a personal defect. These feelings of inadequacy can exacerbate unhappiness, perpetuating a self-reinforcing cycle that can be challenging to break.

Unrealistic quests for happiness as an ultimate goal can also contribute to various mental health issues. Unfulfilled pursuits of happiness can intensify our inner critic, potentially leading to increased depression and anxiety. Feelings of disappointment can further amplify perceptions of inadequacy and low mood, laying the groundwork for depression.

Reimagining the Concept of Happiness

Authentic happiness emerges when we embark on the inner journey with the curiosity and compassion needed to foster self-acceptance and authentic connections with others. It is also closely linked to various factors, including the cultivation of gratitude, the willingness to embrace all emotions, the ability to construct a meaningful life narrative, and the development of sufficient self-acceptance to engage meaningfully with others.

Reaching a state where happiness becomes a way of life, rather than a distant objective, requires practice.

Live in harmony with your values: Identify the principles, standards, and aspects of life that hold genuine meaning for you. Discover what fuels your passion and purpose. When you align your life with your passions and values, you naturally experience satisfaction and joy.

Engage completely in enjoyable activities: Whether it's cycling, painting, creating, or writing, immerse yourself fully in activities you love. This creates a state of flow where you lose self-awareness and become wholly absorbed in the task at hand. This exemplifies mindfulness and living in the present moment, where all your senses are fully engaged.

Seek a sense of significance: Reflect on the ways you contribute and make a difference in your community. Even small acts, like listening to a friend or bringing laughter to someone's life, can imbue your existence with greater meaning. Often, our most profound satisfaction arises from engaging in meaningful actions that impact the lives of others.

The pursuit of happiness doesn't necessarily entail chasing after something external; it's more about recognising what already exists and learning to appreciate it through mindfulness techniques like these.


Sally Edwards Counselling

I am a fully qualified counsellor based in Orpington, Kent

I work with clients with problems including: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, identity issues, relationship problems, self-destructive behaviours, self-harm, childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, trauma, PTSD, eating disorders and body image problems.

I am easily accessible from local areas near me including Orpington, Bromley, Chislehurst, Petts Wood, Sidcup, Beckenham, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Knockholt, West Wickham, Chelsfield, Swanley and Bexley

Face-to-face in person or online counselling

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