If you’ve caught yourself saying or thinking one of these sentences at one point or another, you’re not alone.
At the most fundamental level, we ALL just want to be happy. We fall into the trap of thinking that when a certain thing happens to us, then we’ll feel fulfilled—whether that’s a promotion, a raise, a soulmate, a place to call our own, or something else entirely.
We chase and chase that goal…then when we get it, more often than not, we realize that it didn’t actually give us the sense of happiness we thought it would.
Earn a higher salary? You’re probably under more stress, which often comes with a new promotion or job.
Found a partner? Maybe your relationship wasn’t what you thought it to be, or your partner isn’t living up to your expectations.
Bought a house? Now you have a mortgage and responsibilities that don’t come from renting.
The goalpost for happiness keeps moving, and you’re constantly left chasing this ideal state.
But here’s the kicker…
You never actually “achieve” happiness
Happiness, like other emotions, is not something you obtain, but rather something you inhabit. It is temporary. Always.
Even if you’re feeling on top of the world right now, that could all change in an instant. Wanting to “be happy” is an impossible task in and of itself because life is chaotic, unpredictable, and full of trials and tribulations. If you’re chasing a state of constant happiness, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
What’s more, many of us also fall into the trap of confusing happiness with pleasure—and mistakenly chasing the latter.
Happiness ≠ pleasure
Being able to afford an expensive piece of clothing is satisfying.
Going to a party is fun.
Watching a good Netflix show is entertaining.
Notice how, in all of these instances, I never use the word happy?
That’s because these actions aren’t the things that make us happy.
Sure, they give us some form of pleasure. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find the things that genuinely make you happy aren’t the actions themselves.
Being able to afford an expensive piece of clothing is satisfying…but knowing that you’ve worked hard to get to this point gives you happiness.
Going to a party is fun…but being surrounded by your friends and spending quality time together is what gives you joy.
Watching a good Netflix show…well, that’s just watching a good Netflix show 😛
I want you to think back to a time when you felt truly happy.
Maybe it was the moment when you found out you got into your dream college after years of studying. The moment you crossed the finish line at the marathon. The moment you packed up your bags and set off to travel the world. Or the moment you performed on stage after months of rehearsing.
I’d bet that the journey leading up to that moment was tough. Late nights prepping for exams, tough training, endless practice…I’m sure it didn’t come easy.
But the reason you felt truly happy was because you felt a sense of fulfillment, accomplishment, and meaning.
Happiness is a byproduct of fulfillment—a sense that you’re doing something that’s meaningful and has purpose to you. Rather than chasing superficial pleasures, when we chase fulfillment, we get happiness along the way. And that happiness? It’s far greater than any single moment of gobbling down cake or swiping your credit card at the store.
Here’s the catch: finding that sense of fulfillment is complicated. To do it, you have to achieve two things:
a. You should be covering all three points of the happiness triangle.
b. You should be on the journey to your ideal self.
Let’s start with the first one: the happiness triangle.
What is the happiness triangle?
Regardless of what you think will make your life better, it probably falls into one of three components: freedom, relationships, and health.
These three points make up the happiness triangle—and without it, it’s challenging to live any kind of fulfilling life.
When we have freedom, we feel like we’re in control of our lives.
Freedom can mean having:
The freedom to do what we want, whether that’s going on a vacation, going to the beach on the weekend, or spending our money how we see fit.
The freedom to be who we are, which means expressing ourselves authentically, loving who we want to love, and being accepted for the person we are.
The freedom to spend our time, whether that’s sitting at home relaxing, hanging out with friends, or exercising.
This is why people who get a promotion often feel less happy because they have less flexibility around their time or less freedom to be their authentic selves.
It’s also why money (in moderation) can give us more freedom because it allows us to do more of what we want.
Manson says, “that of all the data on happiness and life satisfaction, the quality of our relationships has the greatest impact on the quality of our lives.”
It’s not surprising. Humans are social creatures, and we’re hard-wired to connect. It’s part of why we’ve achieved feats that no other species have been able to—but it’s also why our relationships play a HUGE role in finding fulfillment and meaning.
This one should be fairly obvious. If we don’t have our health, it makes everything else A LOT more challenging.
Health doesn’t just mean being in shape or not having any diseases. Physical AND mental well-being matters when you’re looking to gain a sense of fulfillment and happiness.
There’s one more important caveat to this triangle.
All three sides are linked.
If you don’t have your health, you might lose some freedom to do what you want, when you want, how you want.
If you don’t have good relationships, it’ll affect your mental health.
And if you don’t have freedom, it affects your relationships and your health.
And so on, and so on.
The best way to live a fulfilling life is to achieve some degree of all three sides
If you’re not sure where to start, try these tips.
1. Work on one area at a time
All three components of the happiness triangle are huge. How do you improve your relationships while also ensuring you have enough financial freedom to do what you want? How do you get more freedom without compromising your relationships? And where do you even find time to look after your well-being?
It can be overwhelming—particularly if it’s the first time you’re hearing about this. But the beauty of having such an interlinked happiness triangle is that if you work on one area, you’ll naturally work on the other.
Rather than get fixated on trying to tackle everything all at once, focus on one area that you think will have the most benefit across the board. As you work on improving that area, the others will naturally improve as well.
2. Focus on your health
If you have to pick one, it should be your health.
Being healthy, both in body and mind, means you’ll have more fulfilling relationships, be able to think clearly, and have more self-confidence.
You’ll also enjoy the freedom to do what you want for longer because you’ll (hopefully) ward off disease and prevent some of the cracks and creaks that come from aging.
3. Find the right balance for you
The right amount of freedom for me won’t be the same as it is for you. That’s okay. We’re all different, and you need to figure out the optimal balance for you.
Maybe you’re an introvert who needs more downtime and stronger relationships with a few in your inner circle. Or maybe you’ve neglected your health and need to prioritize that first and foremost. The key is to figure out what fulfillment looks like for you, not what you think it should look like or what others tell you.
And that brings me to the next part of fulfillment and happiness: figuring out what the journey to your ideal self looks like.
Becoming your ideal self
Who do you want to be?
It’s a huge question.
Most of us don’t even know what we’re going to eat for dinner, let alone who we want to be five, 10, or 20 years from now. But this is the final missing piece of the puzzle towards achieving fulfillment and happiness.
When you understand what you want your life to look like and the type of person you want to become, all of your actions have meaning and purpose.
If you’re training for a marathon and you complete it, you feel an immense sense of achievement because you overcame challenges and pain to reach that goal. If you want to own your own business, you’ll feel fulfilled every time you reach a milestone because you know all the hours of hard work that milestone represents.
Finally, a word of caution: much like a state of constant happiness, you will never actually *reach* your ideal self. This ideal in itself is constantly evolving, but the process of getting there delivers a sense of satisfaction and purpose.
Stop chasing pleasure and start aiming for fulfillment instead
When you’re aiming for fulfillment over happiness, you’ll naturally get waves of joy throughout the journey. These highs will be much higher than those you experience by chasing a higher salary or eating a piece of cake because each and every single one is tied to meaning and purpose.
Ultimately, happiness is in the journey, not the destination. When you realize that happiness isn’t the end goal, but a byproduct of striving toward becoming your ideal self, you’ll be able to stop chasing happiness…and just be.