Prompted: The Pursuit of Happiness
On contentment as the foundation of enduring happiness.
Good afternoon and happy Sunday. I hope it’s been a great week!
There are some big updates coming to Prompted soon so enjoy this week’s edition and keep an eye out for some exciting changes in the coming weeks.
As always, thanks for reading!
If you’re reading this outside of your inbox, subscribe to receive new editions directly:
Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.
- Ben Franklin
The Pursuit of Happiness
It seems like we all want one thing in our lives: happiness.
We want to enjoy our careers, spend time with family and friends, travel the world, and indulge in pleasures along the way.
At the expense of money, fame, and status most of us would choose happiness.
Despite this, happiness tends to be elusive.
Pursuing happiness has the opposite outcome of its desired effect. If we make our decisions based on what will make us happy, we allow our limbic system (our ancient lizard brain) to drive our decision-making. We chase pleasure instead of enjoyment and external milestones instead of internal states of mind.
If we’re not careful, our pursuit of happiness turns into a pursuit of dopamine. We look for things that make us happy, but often these pursuits don’t provide the sustained contentment we seek.
Instead, we see happiness as a static state we can achieve through specific actions or achievements. In the chorus of his song, “Pursuit of Happiness”, Kid Cudi lays out the fallacy we all face:
I'm on the pursuit of happiness and I know
Everything that shine ain't always gonna be gold, hey
I'll be fine once I get it, yeah, I'll be good
Without a careful examination of our thoughts and motivations, we can fall into the trap of thinking “I’ll be happy once I… accomplish x, have y in the bank, or get z out of the way”.
Getting what we think will make us happy provides a rush of dopamine that quickly recedes. Once the reward for our actions dissipates, our body craves to feel the rush of dopamine again.
Completing a marathon provides a deep feeling of accomplishment and euphoria, but it tends to fade quickly. Within a few days we’re looking for a new challenge to overcome so we can feel that sense of accomplishment again.
Although the pursuit of contentment doesn’t have a nice ring to it, it could be the path to lasting happiness.
If we can be content with our current circumstances, we can switch our mindset from a zero-sum game to an attitude of abundance. Instead of always reaching for something to feel happiness, it becomes a floor to stand on as we strive for bigger and better things.
Doritos and Netflix make us happy, but meaningful work and time with people we care about make us content.
Happiness is a state of mind.
Similar to the idea of financial security, happiness is our perception of our circumstances.
If we have millions of dollars in the bank, but we’re still frantically searching for the best deal on blueberries and worried we’ll never have enough money to retire, we’ll never feel financially secure no matter how much money we have in the bank. The only way to be truly financially secure is to change how we think about the money we have in the bank. This is not to say we shouldn’t try to earn more, save, and invest, but once we can feel secure with what we have we can operate from a mindset of security instead of scarcity.
When it comes to our happiness the same principles apply. If we have lots to be happy and proud of, but we’re still chasing new accomplishments to finally reach a point of contentment, we’ll never achieve a lasting sense of happiness. Our mindset is more important than our achievements.
Happiness starts with a base of contentment. Of course, this isn’t to say we shouldn’t chase new accomplishments or become complacent, but once we develop contentment with where we are, we can operate from a base level of happiness instead of constantly searching for our next hit of achievement.
If I had to convince someone else that I was content and truly happy with my life as it stands right now, how would I describe it to them?
What consistently brings me a feeling of contentment when I stop and feel an uncommon feeling of appreciation? How can I create more of this in my life?
What consistently brings me a feeling of dread or hopelessness? How can I remove this from my life?
The Essence of Contentment - GoodTherapy
A licensed counselor’s thoughts on the relationship between contentment and happiness.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.
Thanks for reading Prompted! Subscribe to receive new posts and support my work.