The problem with chasing happiness is… it doesn’t work. In fact, the formula many of us have for happiness is backwards! In this episode, Melissa and Siria provide tips on how you can change your formula for happiness, stay in the moment to experience the now, and share how happiness impacts your brain.
This is the last week to send us love letters for Podcash! Submit your letter between now and March 4 here.
Listen to the podcast here
Why Chasing Happiness Doesn’t Work
In this episode, you’ll learn why chasing happiness doesn’t work. We’ll give you tips on how to change your formula for happiness, stay in the moment to experience the now and share how happiness impacts your brain.
Have you ever felt like you’re on the precipice of something big? Great things are on the horizon for you and you’re excited because all of your hard work is finally starting to pay off. For anybody that’s known me, I feel like I’m about to experience some massive career growth because I’ve been putting in the work to grow professionally. Over the years, I’ve been taking the lead on some consulting projects. I’ve been playing around and experimenting with video creation, production and graphic design, as well as speaking publicly and in front of a camera. Thank you, Pivotal Moments.
All of this has resulted in people trying to connect with me on LinkedIn, requesting more meetings, event collaborations and freelance projects. I was sitting there trying to process what that felt like for me mentally and emotionally because I felt like an array of emotions. I turned to Google, the god of all things.
When I did this research, I typed in how to mentally prepare for growth. Everything that came back was topics and resources titled with things like how to increase your career success, how to ensure that you’re successful and how to know if you’re successful. As I’m looking at the screen blankly, I realized that all of these appear to insinuate that I’m not there, I’ll never be there and I’m going to be chasing success, happiness or whatever it is. I was like, “What if you’re there? What does that feel like? How do you experience it at that moment?” I felt like we needed to talk about you can’t really chase.
Chasing happiness is something that our saboteurs set us up for of constantly setting a goal, reaching the goal, getting there and being like, “That’s it?”
It falls flat.
Yes. I love what you were doing though because you were trying to say, “How do I experience this now?” You’re trying to do what a lot of people do, which is find resources and tools to help them be in the moment. The funny thing is that it may not be an intellectual answer. It is in your body. What does it feel like to be here in this moment, getting into your sensations and seeing where that joy lies?
This is different than what I’ve done before because usually I already put the next benchmark out there and I’ll try to work for that. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the growth that I’m working on, both in counseling and here on the pod, where I’m like, “I’m feeling an array of emotions.” My husband, I don’t think, could understand. He’s like, “What do you mean? Aren’t you proud of yourself?” It’s like, “I’m happy because the sweat equity and sleepless nights that I’ve done are starting to pay off.”
“I’m excited because of what new opportunities lie ahead that maybe I’m not aware of currently. I’m proud because my work is finally being welcomed and appreciated by colleagues and clients. I’m sad because it’s a little bittersweet when you reach a goal and that’s going to modify your journey a little bit.” You’re scared because as you grow, will you be able to keep up with demand?
“How will this impact other aspects of my life? Am I prepared for this?” You have the saboteur and doubt that surfaces for me. It’s like, “Will my quality of work suffer? Do I deserve this type of recognition? Am I qualified to even be here?” It’s an array of emotions and yet, I have not found any resources that talk about being.
Being is experiencing all of these things like, “What’s it like to be proud? What’s it like to have a little bit of sadness of, ‘Maybe this is going a different way,’” or even allowing for the possibility of, “This is going to be different than what I imagined. It might even be better than what I imagined. What’s that like?” I feel like everything that you were talking about, especially on the, “Am I going to be able to handle this? Am I going to be able to do those things,” what keeps popping up is that fear of success. More people are afraid of being successful than they are of failing. That fear is still holding them back from experiencing and doing the things that they want to do.
I’m proud of myself that I haven’t set my next benchmark yet because I don’t know what that is. Let’s talk about what happens when we do start to set benchmarks before we’ve even had a chance to process what that means.
It’s not the processing of the event but experiencing and feeling the event. What happens is it’s this lie that our brains tell us, “I’ll be happy when. I’ll be happy when this project is over. I’ll be happy when I make six figures. I’ll be happy when I’m out of debt.” It’s two lies. I was diving in on this in positive intelligence and I might have talked about it before because I’m obsessed with this stuff. The “I’ll be happy when” are two lies.
The first lie is that you can’t be presently happy. You can’t be happy now. You can only be happy in the future. Happiness is a future event that is reserved for the future and for you to earn by doing something. That’s bullshit. You can be happy in the present. The second part of that lie is that it will come true once you get there where it’s like, “You reached the goal.” You can be happy because your brain is not going to let you do that. You’re going to get there. Maybe it’ll let you celebrate for a little bit and you’re like, “I made it.” Then it’s going to be like, “What’s next?” We set that next benchmark.
You’re constantly chasing that happiness goal post because you keep moving it like, “10 more pounds. Maybe not this house, the next house. Not this job, the next promotion. The next thing.” It keeps us going. It’s part of this other self-perpetuating lie of, “I can only be happy if I’m producing or doing things.” Those are things that are not true. You can be happy now. It’s just not something that we, in our society, allow. It may not be an individual issue. This is something we were talking about before. It could be, “We live in a society that’s constantly reinforcing. You’re only as good as your last project or win.”You can absolutely be happy right now. Click To Tweet
Your last social media post.
Exactly. How many likes did that get? All of those things play into it. We’re here to let you know that you don’t have to do that. You can be happy now. Be conscious of, “Am I moving that benchmark forward for me and also, am I doing it for others?” You’ve had several friends pop out babies and one of the things that happen when people have kids is instead of letting them enjoy the fact that they had a baby now, what’s the question that comes? When are you having your next baby? How many more are you having? What are you doing? This and that.
It’s one of those things where we may do it to other people. I try very hard not to do that to other people and just celebrate. “That’s so amazing. Congratulations. How does it feel? What are you doing to celebrate?” Those are the things I’m trying to say. I’m not trying to say, “That’s so amazing. When are you going to buy your next house? You’re going to do this. My little brother and his wife just had a baby.” I have not asked the question, “Are you going to have another baby or when are you going to have another baby?”
I can hear it in my head popping up. It’s a natural normal conversation piece thing to have. Enjoy your relationship now. Enjoy this experience of you guys being new parents, moving into your new house. They’ve got all kinds of cool stuff going on in their lives. I’m so happy for them. Letting them enjoy the now as opposed to, “This is great but when are you going to do this other thing?” We do that to people all the time. Do you know what it does? It sucks the joy out of the moment.
I love that you’re talking about experiencing the now and the moment because it is all about experiencing the now. Oftentimes, we confuse happiness with external things. We talked about jobs, money, babies and houses. I love Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage. He as well is a psychologist. He talks about if scientists know everything about your external world, they can only predict about 10% of your long-term happiness.
The remaining 90% of your long-term happiness is determined by you and the way that you process what’s going on in the world around you. That’s a way for those like myself who like control, a way to be able to think about, “The majority of how I might experience happiness is within my control, how I interact with the world and how I’m processing information. Am I continuously looking at things in a deficit mindset or am I looking to see what’s positive and experiencing things in the now?”
That’s a great way of looking at the fact that happiness isn’t external. It’s internal and how you look at everything. I added another course on top of the certification. I don’t have a hyper-achiever issue or anything but one of the things that we’re working on is the gifts of the sage. Your sage is that higher self inner wisdom part of you. One of the ways that the sage looks at the world is by seeing every circumstance as having a gift or an opportunity in it and can turn everything into it. Part of what we’re doing is looking at a “bad experience” that we had. We are visualizing it and re-imagining it in what would’ve been the gift out of this.
People are talking about the gifts that they’ve gotten from cancer or breakup. I’ve certainly turned my experience with the friend that shall not be named into a gift, things where you are finding, “There’s a gift and opportunity here.” Sometimes there might be some space. You may not immediately be able to look at the fact that somebody crashed into your car. On that day, you’re probably not going to be able to see the gift. Giving it a little bit of time and space and giving yourself time to feel that sucked.
That resonates with me because Sydnee and I bumped into a dear friend of ours when we were out at coffee and she is a breast cancer survivor. She had talked about how some of the things that she’s learned during cancer and she’s like, “It’s the power of saying no. I used to be a people pleaser but that has subsided after cancer because I realized I needed to put myself first.” I was like, “What a great takeaway and opportunity that was learned from such a terrible event or experience.”
There was a TED Talk that you sent me. I went ahead and did my homework. I watched it. Shawn Achor talks about Christopher Reeve. Christopher Reeve was on top of the world. He falls off a horse and becomes a quadriplegic and then goes on to find all of this research on spinal cord injuries and was asked at some point, “Do you regret this accident?” He’s like, “No, because this is where I found my purpose.” That is the sage.
Everybody will say, “This is objectively bad,” yet be able to come out of it. Your experience of this is this was a good thing. I was thinking about my trauma. We both have traumas. Everybody has trauma. If you’re reading this, you probably have trauma. No one is coming unscathed. You’re going to have something. It’s just to the degree of it. When you look at it, it’s like, “Would I change the past?” No. I don’t think I could because all of that informed and got me to where I’m at.
You had asked me the question on the pod, “With these experiences, am I who I am because of them or in spite of them?” You said, “You are who you are because of it.” That’s a very powerful distinction to make.
I think so of being able to take ownership of it and be willing to see that there are good things in it. All we have in life are circumstances. We are the ones who determine whether they are good circumstances or bad circumstances. Something that could be good like winning the lottery could quickly turn into a curse for you because of all these things that happen. A lot of lottery winners lose the majority of their money. People who come into an inheritance with a large sum of money will spend it. The last time I looked at it, it was something like 70 days or so. I’m like, “Two and a half months you’ve spent all of the money that you came into?”All we have in life are circumstances, and we are the ones who determine whether they are good circumstances or bad circumstances. Click To Tweet
This is regardless of whether it was $15,000 or $1.5 million. It does not matter. People will do that. I think that brings me to my other point, which is you are going to adapt to your circumstances. You have to recognize that that is something that is happening. It’s like when you’re creating a new habit. If you start taking something from a treat and it becomes a habit, say a nitro coffee habit, where the first time it was delicious and then it’s a habit, it’s not the same anymore. My body and brain have adapted to it. They’ve adapted to this new reality and it’s called hedonic adaptation.
You get used to the good thing that you already have so you’re comparing it to, “I don’t have this other thing.” That’s where comparison becomes the thief of joy. What happens is you adapt and now you’re in this new standard. That’s how you’ll see people who are like, “I don’t make enough money.” They’re making six figures and you’re like, “What do you mean you’re not making enough money?”
It is within our control. Ninety percent of our happiness is determined by how we interact with the world. That comes back down to neuroscience, which Sydnee and I both love. We both love neuroscience, positive psychology and anything about how the brain works. In the video I sent you, the Shawn Achor video, he’s talking about when you have the mentality that if you work hard, then you’ll be successful. If you’re more successful, then you’ll be happy. That thinking is backwards for two reasons.
Every time your brain experiences success, you change the goalpost. If your happiness is tied to the other side of that goalpost, your brain will never get there. That resonated with me. That’s why I feel like this moment where I’m pausing before I set my next goalpost was so different than I would normally do because I would automatically tie my next happiness and benchmark to something else. I would never experience pride, accomplishment, achievement, happiness and good things, I would push them off to the side.
What you’re talking about is enjoying the process. That’s the big difference between us being able to separate from the outcome. If you’re enjoying the process and what you’re doing at the moment, then you are living with your joy and happiness as opposed to, “I can only be happy when this is done and get into that moment.” We’ve all experienced being like, “You’re done with a big project.” You get that sigh of relief but you may not necessarily feel happiness, maybe for a little bit.
I realized I might have gotten my videos confused. It might’ve been not Shawn Achor talking about the Christopher Reeve example. My bad but it’s still the same example. You all know who he is. If you don’t know, you might not be old enough for this show. When I was thinking about Shawn Achor’s video, what he was talking about and he didn’t quite articulate, is something that we talk about in coaching, which is the be, do, have model. In society, we’re taught you have to do be. If you do the thing, then you’re going to get the result and then be happy. We have it all backwards.
In coaching, what we try to do is you want to be in the be, do, have model because you start with your place of being. “How do you want to be in this moment?” “I want to be happy.” “What action do you need to take to continue to be that and then you will have that result?” We start with the be, focus there and then you have all the things. It isn’t like, “I’m a writer when I finish a book.” It’s, “I’m a writer now.” You continue to write and then eventually, you’ll have a finished book.
He touches on it a little bit but not in that depth. He also talks about if we do allow ourselves to feel happiness, pride and achievement, these positive emotions will flood our system and brain with dopamine, which has two positive effects. First, it makes us happier. Second, it turns on all the learning centers in our brain that’s allowing us to be more creative, improve our mood, improve our outlook and invite new opportunities in that we may be would have been closed off to. I love when things can change your brain. It’s coming back to the habit loop that we’ve talked about. There’s so much that you can do that’s within your control to change how your brain operates and interprets things.
If you’re tapping into those parts of your brain, you’re not tapping into fear because that system is a different system. You’re no longer in your limbic system, in your fight or flight stuff. You’re in your creative space. You’re in your opportunity to learn and be more expansive, which is freaking amazing. We have the power to do that if we choose to do that. The issue that we have is that we don’t realize that we have a choice in the matter.
There might be some things that happen to us physiologically where we get headaches, migraines and things that we’re not feeling well but we still have to go through, feel those things and take care of ourselves, whether that’s with traditional medicine or something a little bit more alternative. Those are things you still have to deal with but by and large, you’re still making choices. Part of that is I could choose to sit here and be sad and miserable about the fact that somebody dinged my car. Nobody did but if they did, that’s the example.
Would anybody even notice?
I don’t think anybody would. Thank you. I don’t think any of you guys would care. Everybody would be like, “Thank goodness. Go get another car.” Even with that, I’ll be happier when I have a new car. I might be safer. I don’t think I’ll be happier. There are slightly different things but we have the power to choose how we’re thinking about things at the moment and knowing, “If we’re chasing and you feel like you are in a chasing mood, you got to bring yourself back to the present.”
By changing our formula for how we experience happiness in success, we change how we experience our reality. Even taking that small pause before setting my next benchmark has allowed me to change the formula for how I experience happiness in success and allowed me to feel all the emotions. I feel a sense of pride or achievement that I don’t think I normally would have felt otherwise. I’m excited about setting the next goalpost but enjoying being where I’m at.
It’s more of an aim. You’re not tying your happiness.
That’s another big thing too. I’m not tying my worth to the next goalpost or benchmark.
Not tying it to something external. You’re already worthy. You can be happy now. You can be proud of yourself now for this time and place not tying it to the future. One of the things that I’m doing is I’m not necessarily setting another goal. Other things are happening, which are exciting. I’ll be certified later this year. That’s exciting but I’m not tying my happiness to it. I’ll be happy when I’m a CPCC. It’ll be cool. I’ll enjoy that moment of that accomplishment especially since I have lots of written evidence beforehand of, “Should I do this? Should I not?” I’m like, “I’m almost done.” That’s a different space. It’s the same thing with I don’t have those goals as I did before.You can be happy now. You can be proud of yourself for this time and place, not tying it to the future. Click To Tweet
Doesn’t it allow you to be in the space? Your word was just to be.
It’s being present and the acceptance part of it. What it’s doing for me is allowing me to enjoy the moment. I’ll give you this example because it was pretty profound for me. I received two different checks days apart. The first check was for a very large sum of money for a referral fee. I was like, “I wanted to see it.” I made arrangements and did all of that because I was like, “I want to see my name on this check.” I did that and then I went and deposited it the next day. The day after I deposited it, I got another check and it was for a fraction. It was such a small amount. I don’t even think it would cover anybody’s rent at this point.
It was not covering major things but the amount of pride that I felt, because this check is from my coaching work and for being a coach in the coaching sphere with the lawyer group that I’m involved in, made me cry. I’ve never been so proud to earn something in my entire life and I’ve been working since I was fifteen years old. I realized, “This is a real possibility of me being paid a steady income in coaching.” It hasn’t replaced my lawyer salary by any means but that’s not even the point. It was enjoying that moment instead of I’ll be happy in my coaching world when I’ve replaced my lawyer salary.
I also think part of the reason, at least for me, why I have not maybe given time for me to feel the good things. It’s like when you are writing your resume. You don’t want to write the good things you’ve done. It seems like you’re boasting. At least the way that I felt was by celebrating my accomplishments, it seems like I was touting or pumping myself up. It almost seemed selfish or arrogant for me to do. I’m like, “We’ll brush those underneath the rug. I can do those things but let’s not put them on display.”
That’s part of the social conditioning that we have. You don’t want to be too boastful. Nobody likes a show-off. That’s all of that bullshit that we have. What came to mind when you were talking about is the foreboding joy that Brené Brown talks about, where we are like, “I can’t be so happy now because if I do, somebody’s going to drown or happen that is going to take me out of this joy.” A big part of that is knowing that’s just life. You are going to be in moments of joy. We’re not meant to enjoy happiness high all the time.
We are going to go down but we are meant to have more of a stable range of where we’re at. You don’t want to look like a heart monitor. You want it to look more like a wave where you’re having ups and downs. You can enjoy them because the quicker you’re able to come out of the down parts, the more time you will spend in your happiness and joy.
What tips do you have to help people either stop chasing or maybe reframe their formula for happiness?
That’s a tall order. Here’s what I can say. Look for what’s the gift here? Every circumstance is going to have a gift. It might take you a moment to be able to find it but what’s the gift here? What’s the opportunity? This could be from you. Having a fight with somebody, what can you appreciate? This is the ally, the appreciator that comes out. That one can help you be there. The other thing with not chasing happiness is to be in the moment and be grateful for what you have now, which brings me to the gratitude journal I made. I’m so excited.What's the gift here? Every circumstance is going to have a gift. Click To Tweet
That crazy notebook lady on TikTok showed me how to do it on her stuff so I have to tag her on it. You can see it. Practicing gratitude is one of the things that keeps you in the present and from dwelling on the negative things. Even on a shitty day, I’m going to find things to be grateful for to acknowledge myself like brushing my hair, if it’s one of those days where you’re not feeling a whole lot of stuff. Bringing yourself back to the present and your senses in your body are going to help you realize, “I can be happy now,” as opposed to, “I’ll be happy tomorrow.”
I do like the gratitude journal exercise. I know that you are also a big fan of journaling. One thing that I’d like to ask or invite our readers to try is journaling but specifically journaling about a positive experience that you had within the past 24 hours. By journaling about it, you’re allowing your brain to relive that moment and will flood your body with dopamine. Another tip that I would offer would be exercise.
I know I bitch about exercising on here but I have to tell you, with the high levels of stress that I have with my job, even that momentary hour at the gym or even walking my dog for 30 minutes is such a great reset for my body. It also tells my body that my behavior matters. Shawn Achor suggested random acts of kindness. He gave the example of sending a quick email of appreciation to someone within your social network and doing that for 21 days. It doesn’t take much to build this new neural pathway, it just takes consistency.
I did something like that with thank you cards. I made it a challenge for myself for a year. This was a couple of years ago.
I was going to say I didn’t get a thank you card but it’s okay.
This was a while ago. I’m pretty sure you were on the list. What I did was I got a bunch of thank you cards. For a year, my goal was to send one out a week. I did that. It was so much fun to, 1) Write and 2) Send out. Inevitably, it’s several times that I had people being like, “I was having such a shitty day and then I got your thank you card, which warmed my heart.” Everything I wrote was true.
The funny thing is to then later see the cards on display in different people’s offices. I saw it in Jen’s office, one of our friends. That warmed my heart again and knowing that I brought somebody enough joy that they wanted to be able to look back. You’re right. You can always access that memory again and that appreciation and that will bring you to a happy place.
- The Happiness Advantage
- Instagram – Pivotal Moments HQ
- YouTube – Pivotal Moments HQ
- Twitter – Pivotal Moments HQ
- TikTok – Pivotal Moments HQ
Love the show? Follow, rate & review us wherever you listen to your podcast!
Join the Pivotal Moments HQ community today: