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Pursuit of Happiness

Photo by Sandra Lara

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.

All the happiness you will ever need can only be found within you. It’s just a matter of tapping into that source within you.

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.

3. Family

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.

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Duncan Heath
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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11 thoughts on Pursuit of Happiness

  1. True Duncan. In every different age of ours, Definition of happiness may vary, so the way we pursue things would be different as well.

    I read a quote previously, which is :”Success is a journey, not a destination”.

    I believe same goes to happiness, it is a journey we walk on.
    Don’t worry, be happy. Enjoy every single moment in our life and live life to the fullest. =D

  2. I am also in the “pursuit of happiness” phase of my life. It seems the more I read, the more I realize that the key to truly becoming happy is through the art of letting go. We must first drop the past from our embrace before we can welcome the future with open arms. If our arms are already full, how can we embrace anything new – even happiness?

    Yesterday, I made an entry in my journal that started “Happiness is…” and wrote 16 things I am truly happy for in this stage of my life. The first is “the love of a good man” (my husband). The more I read that statement, the more love filled me along with a great sense of happiness. It’s amazing what living in that moment did for my life.

    Thank you for such an enlightening post. It has truly helped me along my own journey towards happiness.

  3. Sabina

    My mama’s laugh makes me happy. Thank God for her.

    Having said that, I’ve realized a lot of things about myself and my relationship to my parents in the past few days (thank God Alhamdulillah). I realize that in a lot of ways, I am still the 5-year-old weeping looking up at my parents in the shopping mall begging for their attention. And I know that the world is throwing so many things at them that they are never going to give it to me. But it’s not their fault. I forgive them.

    And that makes me happy :-)

  4. I love the listed characteristics of Happy People.

    Happiness is a journey!

  5. Okan


    Happiness is a place to start from not a place to arrive… It is not caused by pursuit of what you want ” The Journey” or the attainment…. It is caused by declaring one’s self happy and being a source of happiness instead of one that seeks… One has to give up all notions of all meaning of life so one can be at a ground from which one can declare what anything is.

    Happiness as a feeling of fulfillment or any other feeling or mood is false… Like all feeling and mood it is temporary and easily altered.

    There is the “Ordinary” and then there is the “Beyond Ordinary.” Each one of us can create that.

    Enjoy your days.

  6. Great post. To me, happiness is finding your inspiration and then going for it. And it starts with asking “what do I want?” Not “what should I want?” or “what does my family/spouse/boss want?” Sometimes it can take a long time, and a lot of work, to get to the point where you even allow yourself to ask the question, let alone know the answer.

    When that answer comes, if it is really “the one,” it is going to be big and scary and great. And the next step is working through the fear and doing it. No matter what others think. It look me years to figure that out, to have that courage. And you have done it at 25–inspiring.

    To me, that is the “happiness journey.” It renews itself each and every day. And it’s a gas!

  7. Somalia

    Thank you Duncan
    I pressed the name that you gave and I received an advertising for a sport tool site. It gave me no comfort. Your words did. i do not know if you wrote them for some publicity reason for your site but thank you for them.

    You will notice that Tina writes to us without an interest to sell something. You can click on her name and only find ‘information’.

    I wanted that also from your message.

    Thank you so much for your efforts.

    • @Somalia,

      There is nothing wrong with owning an online store or even selling something. Everyone has to eat and pay for a roof. What matters is the heart of the author and how authentic they are in their writing. I don’t think Duncan wrote this to sell us something. In most cases, the writer may have their own blog from which to link to. But in this case, Duncan doesn’t have a blog, so I liked to his site. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

      Thanks for the comment tho.

  8. Ash

    Great Article!
    I am going to Thailand in July for 10 days. Do you have any recommendations on places I should visit or people I should talk to while I’m there? I would love to have an experience similar to yours! I will be visiting Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, and the Phi Phi Islands.

  9. marc

    Duncan is right-happiness is a journey,not a destination.Personally,I experience happiness most when being with and experiencing joy with people who love me and care about me(friends and family),by doing things that I enjoy(give me pleasure),and mostly by developing myself mentally,physically,spiritually,and culturally.there are so many facets to happiness and the obtaining thereof that its no wonder that there are so many self-help and spiritual books on the subject.Pursuing money CAN lead to happiness(the acquisition thereof),if and only if the money is used PRIMARILY for the benefit of others.On a personal level,my relationship with God my higher power brings me happiness.And it shows with how I interact with others.Great article!

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