Over the last few years, I’ve learned something big about myself: I’m a Happiness Chaser.
I want what I want, and I want it right now, almost to the point that I pine for the future because the future is a mystical and magical place where I’ll finally have everything I want so I can be happy. It’s almost like I live 10 steps ahead in my own mind. Rather than being present, I’m so focused on the goal I forget to appreciate the things I actually do have.
Today, I’m going to fill you in on a personal problem I’ve been working on: How my obsession with happiness, joy, and satisfaction leaves me restless and unfulfilled.
How I Discovered I Have This Problem
This post is the first in a series I’m going to call “Let’s Talk About the Enneagram Without Actually Talking About the Enneagram”.
That said, I know most of you probably aren’t Enneagram nerds like me, and using the language of the Enneagram will probably be confusing and throw some of you off. So in these “Let’s Talk About the Enneagram Without Actually Talking About the Enneagram” posts, I’m going to fill you in on the things I’ve learned about myself and others, using normal everyday vocab anyone can understand.
Now, I discovered I have this Happiness Chasing problem when I started learning about my Enneagram Number: Type Seven. Deep down, all Sevens really want is happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment, and their fear is of being trapped in emotional pain and deprivation from options. But… what does this really mean?
It wasn’t until I started looking at how I chase happiness in my life that I realized… My obsession with joy is really causing me a lot of pain.
If I Could Wish For One Thing, I Would Want to Be “Happy”
If I were to ask you to wish for one thing in life, what would you wish for?
It’s a pretty common question, and I’m assuming you’ve been asked plenty of times in your life. But to be honest, I have a really hard time answering it, because I want SO MANY THINGS and these things are always changing.
But when I really think about it, all I want is to be happy. But of course, this is a boring answer, so I usually come up with something more creative so I don’t disappoint or confuse anyone who asks me.
So, what do I mean when I say I want to be happy? I’ve realized that all I want is to feel content, satisfied, fulfilled, and full of joy.
I want to have a loving family and a good relationship with my husband, a career I enjoy that feels fulfilling and meaningful, a nice home, a healthy body and mind, and the freedom to travel, explore, and try new things, plus some incredbile adventures. Is that too much to ask for?? Isn’t this what everyone wants??
But I can’t answer the question this way, otherwise, I get people asking me, “Are you not happy now? What do you mean you just want to be happy??”
To be honest, the truth is that yes, I’m positive, optimistic, and enthusiastic, but how can I truly be “happy” when I’m chasing happiness all the time?
All I Need is _______, And Then I’ll Be Happy
Here’s another thing I’ve learned about myself: I think of happiness as something outside of myself that I have to go and get. It’s like there’s a piece of me that’s missing, and I think that if I just get this THING all the pieces will fall into place and I’ll finally be satisfied.
But then when I actually get the object of my desire, I don’t feel 100% satisfied and fulfilled, so I choose a new thing to chase. It goes something like this:
Once I move abroad I’ll finally be happy! Oh… well the reason I’m not happy is that I’m in the middle of nowhere and underpaid, if I get a better job in a bigger city, then I’ll be happy. Well, I’m still not happy because I feel trapped in my job, I just really want to work for myself. Now that I’m working for myself and traveling, the reason I’m not happy is because I’m traveling too much and I’m exhausted, I should slow down and focus on making more money, then I’ll be less stressed and happier. Oh, well I’m still not happy because I haven’t designed my career in a way that suits me. If I just…
This constant loop of chasing the next thing goes on, and on, and on, and on FOREVER. This has literally been me my ENTIRE LIFE. Worse yet is that I’m often chasing more than one thing at a time, and when I do get that thing I want and I’m not IMMEDIATELY satisfied, I don’t even take the time to enjoy it. Talk about exhausting…
I’ve Always Chased After The Things I Want
Here’s the thing, I’ve always had a pretty type-A, ambitious, go-getter personality. I chase after the things I want, whether that’s straight A’s or career success, traveling the world, starting my own business, or even relationships (awkward).
My parents learned pretty early on that I didn’t like hearing “no” for an answer, so basically I was an awful two-year-old. Sorry about that…
I often joke that I’m like Locke from Lost: DON’T TELL ME WHAT I CAN’T DO!!!
But the problem when you’re a Happiness Chaser and you want EVERYTHING is that you chase after things indiscriminately. When you just want to be happy but don’t know exactly what will get you there, this creates trial-and-error anxiety of just doing and experiencing everything in the hopes that you’ll find what you’re looking for.
The more options and opportunities, the more anxiety I feel because I need to try all of them to know what I really want.
For Example: Finding the “Perfect” Country to Live in
I feel this intense desire to find the “perfect” country to settle down in. With the world as my oyster, how can I possibly choose when none of them are 100% right?
Can’t I have the food, language, and transportation of Mainland China, with the beaches and rice fields of Hoi An, with the wine, cheese, long-term expats, and ability to get things from home you’d have in Georgia, with one of those villas you find in Bali, but then throw in US shopping and Trader Joes and bring in all my friends and family from the US and Australia… and then add Australian healthcare while you’re at it with some New Zealand politics?
Wow, that was definitely in the top 10 most obnoxiously privileged things I’ve ever said in my life.
That said, I really do feel like if I keep moving around and trying new places I’m going to eventually stumble into a country that is 100% perfect for me and my life. But the problem with this is that it’s impossible and EXHAUSTING.
I’ll be honest, yes I LOVE having options and freedom. I crave it. But the more options you have, the more pressure there is to find the PERFECT thing.
The more opportunities and experiences you can chase, the more you spend your whole life chasing. This is part of the reason being forced to stay in Georgia due to COVID has actually been incredible for my mental health and sanity.
When Joy Exists Outside of Yourself, You’ll Never Be Happy
Here’s something I’ve been attempting to learn the hard way: When happiness exists as something outside of yourself that you need to go and GET, you’ll never truly be happy.
Because guess what? Happiness is an emotion, not an item, country, experience, or person. Happiness comes from appreciating the good things in your life, not indiscriminately chasing after stuff.
The more you chase after the things you think will make you happy, the less satisfied you are with what you actually have. The more things or experiences you think you need in order to be fulfilled, the less fulfilled you’ll truly be.
It’s Impossible to Be Happy All the Time
The thing with us Happiness Chasers, is that we see any negative emotion or dissatisfaction as a problem that needs to be fixed… immediately. Then we start coming up with all the things we need to do to “fix it”.
This manifests itself as frustration. My wants and desires are NEEDS and I NEED to fix this problem RIGHT NOW.
But here’s the thing… let’s say my wish came true, and I was 100% happy, satisfied, and fulfilled all the time. Magically, I woke up tomorrow and had everything I ever wanted with no problems in my life.
Wow… how boring does that sound? There would be nothing left for me to DO or chase, and if I’m not chasing something then… who am I?
I bet you that within a few days I’d find something else I thought I NEEDED in order to be happy. The bar would shift, the goals would change, and I would be chasing something else.
Because when you chase happiness, it means deep down you’re always dissatisfied.
Learning to Enjoy the Moment
Us Happiness Chasers have a hole inside ourselves that needs filling. We have an insatiable desire to run, chase, obtain and experience everything in this world in hopes that we will finally feel full. That we’ll be done, we’ll be content, and finally satisfied.
But what if I told you that no object, person, or experience is going to fill that hole and make you feel happy?
So… how do you do you find happiness without searching outside of yourself? Well, this is the part I’m still working on.
But I think the easiest way to find happiness within yourself is to actually appreciate the good things you already have in your life and to take some time to be grateful for the amazing things you do achieve and experience.
No, I don’t mean you need to become a monk and forsake all worldly pleasures! But how about taking the time to celebrate when you do get that raise, instead of wondering why your life isn’t 100% perfect even though you got that career success? Or instead of being focused on how your trip was canceled due to COVID, why not try to take some time to appreciate your wonderful kitchen, big comfy couch, or that awesome book you’re reading?
Being in the Moment While We Travel
Tell me if this sounds like you:
I was listening to the Enneagram and Coffee Podcast, while host Sarah Jane Case (and fellow Happiness Chaser), was talking about her first time visiting Europe. She and a friend were standing at the base of the Eiffel Tower, and while her friend stared up in awe, Sarah said, “Wow, I can’t wait for Berlin. It’s going to be so amazing!”.
At this point, her friend turned to her and said, “We’re at the EIFFEL TOWER, what the heck is wrong with you?”
We Happiness Chasers tend to have a “been there done that” mentality when it comes to happiness, and I myself am super guilty of this!
I live my life half in the present and half in the future, so while I’m having fun and enjoying my travels in the moment, sometimes I find myself daydreaming about the next destination while I’m already somewhere incredible and exciting. What?? Why???
What’s the point of experiencing something if you’re not going to truly experience it?
My Tips For Finding True Happiness, and Not Chasing It
This Happiness Chasing habit is going to be a big self-improvement project that I may never quite master, but I have learned a few lessons these past few years that some of you fellow Happiness Chasers may find helpful.
1. Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Body
I tend to live in my mind, constantly thinking about new experiences, opportunities, adventures, and ideas I need to explore. But this constant buzzing in your head and living in the future honestly isn’t healthy, so I’ve been working on pulling myself out of my head and back into my body.
The best thing I’ve found for this is yoga. I do a Yoga With Adriene video every single morning (I’ve been cycling through all her 30 days of yoga series). This really helps me start the day off right, and I can definitely tell that on the days I don’t do it, I feel more scattered.
During the day if I start to find myself getting stuck in my head, I close my eyes, put my feet on the ground and take a few deep breaths. It really helps calm me down!
2. Rather than Ask “What’s Missing” I Appreciate What I Have and Achieve
It’s funny that most people think we’re joyful optimists because we really focus a lot on what we don’t have for someone who is supposed to be a “glass-half-full” type of person. Yes, I see the world as a series of boundless opportunities, but I also tend to pinpoint the things I think are missing in my own life. When my achievements don’t leave me completely satisfied and fulfilled, I’m already onto the next thing.
But I’ve been trying to spend time every day to feel grateful and happy about the things I do have. When I do get something I want, I make some time to celebrate that achievement, and really enjoy the moment.
Of course, I still struggle with this (a lot), and I almost don’t believe it when people tell me that I’m “living the dream” or I’m already “super successful” because I’m focused on the potential and the future. But taking a little time to appreciate what I already have or the achievements I’ve made has been extremely helpful.
3. Be Choosy With What You Chase
We assertive people will always be chasing something, whether it’s career success, good grades, joy, or adventure. But we need to be choosy with what we chase.
Rather than chasing EVERYTHING that sounds interesting, I’ve been trying to really sit with myself and make deliberate, achievable goals. Because guess what? Happiness isn’t concrete. Neither is “I want to be successful” or “I want to travel”.
You know how you get those things? You say, “I want to save up XYZ dollars by [insert specific date here] so that I can travel to India for one month”. Or, how about “I want to have a new online course created by the end of December”. Then you can actually take concrete steps towards those goals and make them achievable.
Don’t forget to take some time to appreciate that goal when you eventually DO achieve it!
Are You a Happiness Chaser?
I’m curious: are any of you like me? Did this ring true for anyone else here? Please let me know in a comment!
I’m actually very curious to know who else here struggles with these things, and what you’re doing to overcome it, especially during COVID when we CAN’T travel or do many of the things we think will make us happy.
Are you interested in learning more about this “Enneagram without the Enneagram” stuff? I definitely plan on writing more about this and my relationship to FOMO, the grass is always greener mindset, wanting to be “successful” and more!
As always, if there’s something you want to learn more about or know more about, let me know in a comment so I can write about it in a future post!