Happy: Why the American dream is killing our spirit

March 13, 2016/Coaching

purpose of life

I’m American, born and raised. I’m hopelessly patriotic, if there is such a thing. I cry when our national anthem is played.  When I think of those who are and who have served our country, sacrificing so much that I might have freedom, I can work myself into an all-out ugly cry.

However I have a bone to pick with the founding fathers. I respect them – yep, I do, but they had one thing wrong – the focus on every man’s right to “the pursuit of happiness.”

The pursuit of individuality or personal dreams, yes! But this pursuit- the goal of attaining happiness- gives the impression that happiness is something that can be found; that we can chase after it until we catch it by the tail and pull it toward us. This idea is what fuels the American dream – – the one where if you work hard enough, you will be HAPPY.

If I only had a bigger house, I’d be happy.
If I only had a nicer car, I’d be happy.
If I only had a spouse (or children), I’d be happy.

Truth: If you aren’t happy without it, chances are you won’t be happy with it. Here’s why.

Whenever a client tells me their goal is happiness, I know we have a problem because feelings like happiness are bi-products. They are the end-result of pursuing something else – achieving a goal or making a personal connection that resonates so strongly in your core that it brings feelings of happiness.

Stop for a minute and think about the last time you felt happy – what were you doing? who were you with?   It wasn’t happiness you were after in the moment, it was the moment itself that created the feeling.

When we lift happiness up as the goal, we tend to flounder, wondering how to get there.   An ancient Proverb says, “the eyes of man are never satisfied,” because when we focus on getting or attaining, like a drug, “it” is never enough. We strive until we are exhausted and disillusioned.

Striving is a negative thing… it’s a place of unrest, a constant struggle that we think is moving us forward, but most likely has us running on a treadmill going nowhere. It focuses on what we don’t have. A feeling that we are constantly missing out. (FOMO on steroids.) The pursuit of happiness feels frenetic and anxiety-ridden. We are hustling to get something that keeps slipping through our fingers.

William S. Burroughs said, “Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict, those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war.”

Happiness is the result of, not the reason for.

Put another way:

Happiness isn’t the reason I live my life, it’s the result of the way I live it. {tweet that}

It’s the mystery of why people in developing countries without an excess of food, high wages, or daily security can feel happy just as much as the American with too much of everything.

If happiness doesn’t float your boat, plug in the words “inner peace,” “success,” or “money”. They all operate on the same principle.

So now what?

We were made for more than seeking happiness. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and survivor of the death camps of the Holocaust, found that those who survived weren’t the ones who sought their survival through theft and hoarding, but those who found a purpose for their life inside the walls of the camps. In fact, those who hoarded and stole food were more likely to die than those who shared their rations. He talks of a woman who said her sole purpose for surviving the concentration camps was to get her niece to safety. She saved half her piece of bread every night to give to her niece in the morning. Against all medical science, she survived on barely any food for several years based on her inner purpose.

Instead of seeking happiness, we need to take a hard look and determine what our goal really should be. Some of us haven’t considered there is a big-picture purpose to what we are doing day in and day out.

Our purpose doesn’t have to be some big, grand, huge, dream-big passion. There is plenty of purpose in the ordinary.  The world is changed through grandiose leaders, but also by those who faithfully show up every day.

Don’t believe me?  Without using outside resources, name the last five gold olympic winners in figure skating. The last five male actors to win the Oscar? The last five People’s sexiest women alive?

Now name three teachers who had an immediate impact on your life? A coach? An aunt or an uncle?

Most of us don’t impact the world through our accomplishments, but through our connection with others….

I believe the people who are the happiest are those whose purposes and goals transcend beyond their own benefit.  Those who seek to impact the world around them find a fulfillment that’s hard to beat.

Have you thought of your purpose? Have you considered the legacy you will leave to those behind you? Your mark on the world? It doesn’t mean you have to leave your job or uproot your family, or maybe it does. It really depends on you…. all of us are called to a different purpose.

Take time to reflect today…. what are my gifts? My strengths and weaknesses? Who am I drawn to? What subject am I passionate about that keeps me up at night? What do I keep putting off because it doesn’t seem doable?

And once you’ve thought about it: do it.   You’ll be happy you did.

If you want help reflecting on your purpose or life vision, contact me for details. It you found this article thought-provoking, please share via the social media buttons below. 


Comments (4)

  • Linda Hogeland / March 13, 2016 / Reply

    Good post Leighann!

    • Leighann / March 16, 2016 / Reply

      Thanks, mama Linda!

  • Courtney / March 14, 2016 / Reply

    amen!!! yes!! LOVE this.

    • Leighann / March 16, 2016 / Reply

      Thanks, Courtney! Love YOU!!! haha.

Add comment

(c) 2016 Leighann Marquiss