The Pursuit of Happiness

an article by Barb McEwen

Not long ago a researcher asked over two thousand respondents “What do you want most out of life?” The answer was almost unanimous: everyone wanted to be happy. They wanted happiness not only for themselves, but for their children and loved ones – basically they wanted to be relieved of depression, worry, anxiety – all the things that rob us of what we call happiness.

The last couple of generations has seen an upward spiral in possessions, better education, medical advances, increased life expectancy, to name a few, but our search for happiness continues.

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Each of us has had wonderful moments that we would like to be frozen in time. The fact is, however, that we cannot preserve those occasions of joy, except in our photo collection and in our memories. We know we cannot be happy all the time. Ours is not only a planet of beautiful mountain peaks and gorgeous sunsets -- there are also earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. This is not only a world of energy and achievement, but also a world of birth defects, accidents and disease.

There is a wide variance among professionals today but certain authorities indicate that mental depression is at an all time high. Another survey indicates that over 60% of the people say that they are unhappy most of the time.

I have no way of knowing whether, in fact, these figures are accurate but I would expect that they are not far from the truth. Consequently, there is an almost desperate search going on for happiness.

If we were asked, what we want most out of life most of us would acknowledge that we too want to be happy. In addition we might want health, perhaps security, good relationships, freedom, etc. But we might also admit, that even though we have our basic needs met, there is a gnawing sensation that there is something more if we are to be happy.

Let’s talk about that. Because it is here that I think we can find some answers for this “happiness” dilemma.

I have been privileged to know people who in the midst of terrible tragedy have been able to completely turned their lives around. It happened when they began to look at the gap that existed between what they were actually doing and how they wanted to live.

In a healing workshop I once attended, we were asked, “If this was your last day on earth, how would you want to be described?” Ninety-nine percent of the time, the reply went something like this: “I did my best to love other people and to make a difference by being caring and compassionate.” And yet, when most of us look at our day-to-day lives and our style of living, it wouldn’t look that way at all. Often there is a gap between our intentions and how we actually behave.

Let me explain: Take a look at a simple tulip bulb and you will see what looks like a grungy mass of brown biological matter. But you know that somewhere within the confines of that bulb, there exists a future pull of nature. If it is planted and nourished it will become exactly what it is destined to become – and nothing else – because within that bulb there is a built-in program of its future. It will not become a better tulip by being tugged and coaxed as it emerges from the ground. It will be all that it is going to be according to “its own inner picture”. Creation will reveal its secrets.

The scenario for human life is similar but has a different twist. Basically, we are all biologically programmed. Each of us has been given different talents. We likely know where our traits come from, whose eyes we have, whose hair color and whose stature. Like the tulip bulb, we have been internally programmed. But human life is not quite that simple. On the other side of the equation comes the matter of freedom of choice. This is where we can get difficulty. We need to look at proper balance. On the one side we need to honor --our biological traits. On the other side -- we must be prepared to make good decisions in order to become all that we were intended to be. We need to learn to both develop and enhance what it is we have been given. But knowing this, how do we find happiness?

We need to acknowledge our own role in our happiness. We do this by accepting the choices we have made in our life – both good and bad. Then it is important to recognize that we are our own agents of change. This is crucial. You see, in our lives, we always have choices. Some people will challenge me on that, but it is true. Even when disease or unhappy events befall us, we consciously or unconsciously choose how we will accept and adapt to such situations. It is tough to recognize when we are choosing to wallow in our own problems, or allowing ourselves to stay stuck. Often we accept the status quo because it is difficult to do otherwise, but then we wonder why we feel so awful. We know when we need to make change -- to live in accordance with our intentions.

Achieving a calm, mental attitude is basic to our happiness. It is a well established fact that when we allow worry and anxiety to dominate our thoughts, happiness becomes allusive. It was Lincoln who said, “We are as happy as we have made up our minds to be.” It is true that our thoughts determine whether we are miserable or happy. Our thought patterns create the world in which we live. It was Norman Vincent Peale who said, “If we are to achieve happiness, we have to cultivate our thoughts that produce such an attitude.” If we permit ourselves to nurture critical thoughts, associate with negative people, or accept mean spirited criticism, we will be not be happy – that’s a guarantee!

We need to remind ourselves to do things that we enjoy. When you love what you do, you are bound to give more of yourself and your enthusiasm becomes contagious. The more you give of yourself, the more life will give back to you. Are you surrounding yourself with good friends, people you love and people who love you? Science has found that close friends and strong mutual love brings both health and happiness. As someone said, “Love and respect life and life will love and respect you back”.

Learn to forgive yourself and others. Most people operate with good intentions but sometimes we still make mistakes or offend others. We need to forgive ourselves for these errors in judgment. They are what they are. We do, however, need to learn the crucial lessons our mistakes teach us. These lessons become the foundation for a strong and capable life. We also need to forgive those who have hurt us. Forgiving others is not about washing another’s slate clean – it is about refusing the carry the burden of anger and resentment. It is about letting go. Everything we do is an outward expression of the life you have chosen to live and forgiveness is a choice. To the extent to which you become free of the burdens you carry, the deeper your sense of happiness.

Stop comparing yourself to others. When you compare yourself with others as a measurement of your performance you are at the mercy of your false self. Our egos love to see us striving, going after the rewards of our efforts, jumping through hoops for others, chasing after success wanting to be better than others. Know for a fact that happiness does not come from things outside yourself. It comes from within. We need to be at peace with our choices…basically, at peace with ourselves.

As I think about my own happiness, it seems to be most profound when I am doing things for a reason beyond my own personal gain. There is a purpose, a passion, a vision of what is possible. It comes when I am feeling whole, when I feel connected to the universe and others. I am happy when I am at peace with my choices, doing the things of enjoy, when I am confident with my work and when my relationships are reciprocal and working. Happiness does not depend on having everything that we want, it lies in our knowledge that there is purpose in our lives and that we are loved.


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Barb McEwen is a Master Executive Coach and Organizational Strategist who works with corporations and individuals worldwide. As founder of 20/20 Executive Coaching and 20/20 Executive Women she has spent the past twelve years working with high potential individuals to help them hone their leadership and management skills. Contact Barb at