Photo by Sandra Lara
By Duncan Heath
I lost my mother to cancer when I was just 13. Experts at the time said that it would have a psychological impact on me, and friends and family later told me that it did.
I still don’t truly understand how it affected me and I believe the answers have been locked in a box in my mind with a key I cannot (or choose not to) find. Maybe there is nothing in that box, or maybe I’m just not ready to open it. Whatever the case may be, I’ve never really spent any time digging into the emotional impact of her death, and couldn’t tell you how the various intricacies of my psychology would differ today if she is still here today.
Having said this, there was one dramatic change that I did pick up on: I become fearlessly independent and driven.
Perhaps my independence stemmed from my unwillingness to rely on or open up to anyone else for fear that I would be emotional hurt or let down (again?). And maybe my new-found drive was a primitive ‘self-preservation’ distraction technique?
Whatever it was, I found myself blindly charging towards various goals with dogged determination and tenacity.
My Initial Pursuit of Happiness
At the young age of 13, not being very creative, I found myself driving towards goals that were put in front of me by loved ones or by society’s pervasive expectation. If it was something I was “supposed” to do well at, I would do everything in my power to succeed: academia, fitness, sport, extracurricular activities.
It was only after I had graduated from university that I finally empowered myself with a little introspection. Perhaps this was because there were no more direct pressures from those around me to achieve anything else, but I realised that whilst I had achieved many things during my transition into adulthood, I had actually achieved very little.
I was not happy, I did not have any great feeling of purpose or direction, and I didn’t feel that I really knew myself. It was about this time that I began to realise that happiness does not come from doing what other people expect you to do, from material possessions, or from social standing.
What Makes Us Happy?
I believe that everyone–when we reach a certain life stage—comes to an understanding that happiness is ultimately what we want from life.
As children, we never stop to consciously consider happiness, because we were already established in happiness. As teenagers, many of us tend to falsely associate happiness with material possessions, fitting in, and feeling important in the eyes of other people.
Then as we become young adults, we reach the difficult stage where you discover that you want happiness but perhaps uncertain as to how to truly achieve it. I believe that this life stage is of vital importance in determining how the rest of your time on earth will pan out.
Most people, as they enter adulthood, begin their pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness will differ from person to person in that each of us have our own ideas and beliefs about what will make us happy. The path each person chooses to find happiness is what I call ‘pursuing force’.
For many, the object of pursuit is money, or–more accurately–what money can buy. For other people, the idea of happiness is having a large family, living somewhere exotic, owning a successful business, or becoming famous.
All these things may deliver happiness in varying amounts, but these areas of pursuit are inherently flawed for one simple reason: they are external to you and therefore largely out of your control.
Maybe you will develop a strong business. Maybe you will find a brilliant partner and have lots of kids. Maybe you will even win the lottery. However, the reality is that these events will never bring the lasting happiness exactly as you had originally imagined. Things never turn out exactly as the vivid fantasies in our imagination. There are so many external factors influencing the outcome.
Your business might be hit by recession. You might have a child with learning difficulties. You might struggle to discover who your real friends are after you’ve won the lottery. These are just examples, but there are an infinite possible occurrences that can and will derail your pursuit of happiness if you believe happiness to be delivered by pre-determined circumstance.
So what is the answer? What is a better way to pursue happiness?
Well, I don’t know for sure either. However, I can offer some insight into what I have learned so far on the topic through observing other cultures with a large percentage of happy people.
Over the last few years, I have visited over 25 countries. Out of those countries, the places I have learned the most from are the countries in South East Asia. Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and especially Vietnam blew my mind with their approach to life and happiness.
These are countries that have been ravaged by war, massacre, and poverty. Despite all the unfortunate happenings, the people I have met in these countries are some of the nicest and the happiest.
I won’t pretend that I fully understand their secret to happiness, however, if you spend any amount of time with a group of people who are happy, you start to notice common patterns that you can learn from.
3 Qualities of Happy People
I will dive in detail the psychology behind their happiness in a future post, but for now here are the three common traits that I observed. I found these traits to be the most useful in my own understanding of happiness.
1. Happiness is a Journey
They believe happiness is a journey not a destination. Until you appreciate that no one thing or one time will bring you happiness, you will never be truly happy.
2. Find Happiness From Trivial Occurrences
You can extract happiness from the smallest everyday things. You can even find positive things to be happy about from those that might seem negative at first glance – The wind might kick up a dust storm and get in your eyes, but it will also cleanse your crops of insects.
Family is the number one bringer of happiness. Love for and from friends will come and go, but love for and from family is a true constant.
My Pursuit of Happiness
Earlier I mentioned that everyone has a ‘pursuing force’ that they hope will bring them happiness. For me–at this point in my life– my perusing force is simply “learning about happiness”.
As long as I can learn about happiness everywhere I go and from everyone I meet, I find a little more of it to take with me on my own journey.
The best thing about having a desire to learn about happiness is that you don’t necessarily have to go anywhere or meet anyone to learn…there is a wealth of knowledge to be found by just looking inwards.
** What makes you happy? What makes you smile? Share your thoughts and stories in the comment section below. See you there.
About the Author:
Duncan is a 25 year-old entrepreneur based in the UK. He is an avid traveller and studies happiness at every opportunity. His website Extreme Sports Trader affords him the luxury of working almost anywhere in the world.
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