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How to be happy without chasing happiness

Updated: 2 days ago

Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product – Eleanor Roosevelt.

As much as we like to think happiness is a goal, reality proves us otherwise. The more we chase it, the further it seems out of reach. If there is an excellent way to describe it would be, “Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product ".

That sounds reasonable, yet complicated at the same time. What do we mean by by-product, and how do we start creating a life that results in happiness?

The main focus in defeating my mental illness back in the day was chasing happiness. I thought happiness was my primary goal to eliminate my depression, PTSD, and anxiety episodes.

But the more I was chasing happiness, the more I started to drown in my negative repetitive thoughts; “You will never be happy” would echo daily in the back of my mind.

CHASING HAPPINESS We all know the feeling of chasing happiness. Our mind comes up with ideas, things we think bring happiness, and actions follow. But this doesn’t automatically mean happiness. For years I looked in the wrong places. Countless parties, toxic relationships, shopping sprees, unsatisfying jobs, and extreme activities would follow each other up. But nothing made me happy. At least, not for a long time. Even worse, my mental illness would be more severe after every failed attempt.

Like many of us, I reached the point where it seemed pointless even to think I could be happy. So, I stopped chasing happiness. I accepted it was not for me and would believe this thought for the next fifteen years. [you are not your mind]

CREATING SELF-AWARENESS When having a mental illness, navigating through a world that offers countless solutions toward recovery is hard. We can get overwhelmed and, instead, choose to withdraw. Taking our time and trusting ourselves in this process is essential. We should not underestimate our intuition.

After years of unsuccessful therapy and treatments, I felt it was time to try a different approach. As much as my psychologist and psychiatrist were great listeners and functioned as a support, I felt I was missing something essential. I took a break from our weekly sessions and focused on inner work, meditation, breathwork, and re-programming my mind. That turned out to be precisely what I needed.

During the following months, I discovered that the first step toward recovery was to stop chasing happiness. We should teach our minds that happiness is not the goal but a by-product. That realization forces us to start doing things that create happiness instead of chasing things we think ‘are' happiness.

But how do we go from unhappiness to doing things that create happiness?

PUT NEW THOUGHTS INTO NEW ACTIONS Re-programming our thought process is essential to change our actions and behavior, leading to new experiences and feelings. Those new feelings are needed to create the by-product happiness.

Mental illness can block the creation of new thoughts, but breaking that familiar chain of destructive, old patterns is essential. Practice makes perfect.

During my daily meditation sessions, I practiced gratitude, kindness, and self-love, but most of all, I focused on re-programming my old thoughts into new thinking patterns. I finally became self-aware. My mind was getting stronger, and my old destructive thoughts were decreasing. I could feel my behavior changing. But was this enough? Was this my way toward happiness? I still felt I was missing something.

keeping a diary to track your progress

CREATING NEW LIFE ACTIONS Ideally, we want to combine our new thoughts with new life actions. This can be related to work, relationships, daily activities, etc. When having a mental illness, we can lose our self-knowledge. We lose how it feels to be happy– to do things that create happiness. We lose the ability to see the bigger picture and how things are connected. So, we have to start all over and look at it from a helicopter view. Maybe it will feel forced, as our mental illness rather keeps us in bed. But we have to push ourselves and ignore our old habits.

I felt like a little kid trying something for the first time. I would sign up for sports, practice musical instruments, volunteer, sing, dance, write, travel, etc. I looked at different careers, quit certain friendships, set up my goals, and put more time into family and friends. I was scared. I’m not going to lie. It felt unnatural, but I knew I had to do it. Gradually I started to define what the things were that created happiness for me. I experienced little moments of joy, satisfaction, peace, and a new world of possibilities opened up.

COMBINING FORCES It was time to combine forces. My meditation sessions and re-programming of my mind would merge with my new life actions. Together they became a force bigger than my mental illness and progressively created my path toward recovery. It created new experiences and new feelings, and happiness became a by-product of the fulfilled life I started to live. For the first time in my life, I felt that my mental illness was no longer in charge, and my mind gained room for a new version of myself; a happy version.

CONCLUSION Happiness is not a goal but a by-product. We should abandon chasing happiness and focus on doing things that create happiness. This can be achieved by creating self-awareness and new life actions. From my own experience, this all starts with changing our thoughts. By creating new thoughts, we make new choices that lead to new actions and behavior. Our new actions will create new experiences, which lead to new feelings. It's those new feelings that generate the by-product "happiness."

You can download the -happiness roadmap- below, which will give you an overview of one of my coaching sessions about ‘getting mentally stronger and creating the by-product happiness.’

Happiness Roadmap
Download PDF • 285KB

How do you feel about starting to do things that create happiness? What have you tried, and did it work? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

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