People don’t actually aim to be happy

People don’t actually aim to be happy

One of the stranger and more pervasive myths in psychology is people always strive for happiness. They don’t make the best choices – like eating right and donating to charities – because it doesn’t make them happy.

I believed this for a long time, until I actively questioned it.

It didn’t take much prodding to bring the whole construct down.

What makes people happy?

Dabbling in a hobby.

Spending quality time with loved ones.


Being of service to others.

What do people actually do?

Browse social media.

Binge watch mediocre programs.

Get drunk.

If you actually observe people – and really consider your own actions – you realise people don’t aim to be happy. Based on what they do, they aim to be comfortable.

There’s a big difference. Poor countries with tight social groups, demanding physical work and no modern conveniences have happier citizens than wealthy nations. We’ve all read the statistics. If we valued happiness over comfort, we’d throw out our fridges and join farming collectives.

But we’ll give up happiness for comfort most of them time.

This can be a powerful insight.

One question people ask themselves is, ‘do I want to be happy or successful?’ It’s a bad question for a number of reasons – why can’t you be both? But it makes failure an acceptable, even appealing option. After all, no one wants to be the stereotypical high-powered executive who has power, money and no life.

There’s nothing wrong with choosing happiness.

But what if the question is, ‘do I want to be successful or comfortable?’

You might as well ask this because it’s the real decision. And it’s a very different one. Some people who have struggled and suffered would love a comfortable life. For others – for those of us with middle class backgrounds who never went hungry – a comfortable life feels like settling.

It’s a sign you haven’t tested your limits.

You only grow outside your comfort zone.

If you want to be successful, you have to be okay with discomfort.

This isn’t a real dilemma, of course. You can (and should) aim for comfort and success. But if you want total comfort without any struggle, hardship or misfortune, you’d better ostrich it up and stick your head in the sand.

To live a life of substance, value, accomplishment, love, adventure, wealth, success, community…

It takes occasionally sacrificing comfort for results.

Think of anyone who studies. They could choose to learn something else, like the plot of the latest movie or how to beat a video game. Instead, they’re focused on a worthwhile skill people will value – probably even pay for.

Mastery isn’t comfortable, but it does point you towards happiness and success.

If you want to make it anywhere in live, it takes a lot of learning.

Which requires being in the right state of mind a lot.

Some people are naturally good at combining the right curiosity, openness, focus and relaxation. The rest of us have to work at it.

Here’s a tool that makes entering that state of mind as natural as breathing:

Photo by
Collin Hardy on Unsplash

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