I was in born in the United States, and I think that the American experiment is one of the most extraordinary things that’s happened in human history.
But there’s something I’ve always questioned, and that’s the part of the Declaration of Independence that states that all people have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I totally agree with the life and liberty part, but it’s the idea of pursuing happiness that troubles me. “Pursuit of happiness” implies that you’re not currently happy. It means your happiness lies sometime in the future. And my feeling is, the moment that you pursue happiness, it’s always going to be a make-believe game. It’s not going to be an actual goal. It’s an ideal.
Goals are specific, measurable, and attainable, while ideals are abstract and always out of reach. Aiming for something as vague as “happiness” means you’re never going to achieve it—because you’re never going to know when you’ve reached it.
Expand your happiness.
Instead, I encourage the expansion of happiness. This means starting with happiness and building on it rather than pursuing happiness.
Before setting a new goal, take the time to recognize and appreciate the progress and achievements you’ve made so far. You’ll see how you’ve raised your levels of capability and confidence with your past progress. What you then want to do is take these things that are true and expand them outward. You’re not trying to get anywhere. You’re just trying to get bigger.
Happiness is your starting point, and you’ve expanded on it by achieving the goal. So, it’s a constant outward expansion of happiness.
Happiness is internal. It doesn’t come as a function of competitive achievement. Pursuing happiness isn’t possible. What you need to do is start off positive and just keep making it bigger.
Start with happiness.
It’s an enormous burden to be in the mindset that happiness is something you need to go out and get.
Rather than “pursuing” happiness, start with happiness. If you take the time to think about it, you’ll find things you’re happy about. Acknowledge those, and use that positive energy to build on and enhance your happiness.
I don’t think we set and achieve goals in an effort to become happy. We do it because we are happy and want to expand our happiness.
The harder you try to pursue an ideal, thinking it will make you happy, the further away you’ll find that hypothetical happiness to be once your work is done.
“Start with happiness.” —Dan Sullivan
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Achieving real happiness.
Happiness must be based on reaching achievable, measurable goals. This way, it’s not idealistic happiness. It comes as a result of the specific measurements of progress you make, so it’s also a grounded happiness: You’ll know exactly why you’re happy, and you’ll be able to see how to replicate the happiness and expand it.
By expanding on your happiness and setting tangible goals, you have a far better chance of actually being happy than if you were to pursue an ideal called “happiness.”
I believe the history of America might be different if the Declaration of Independence had used the term “expansion” instead of “pursuit.” But the next stage can begin now. During the first 250 years, we pursued happiness, but from this point forward, we’re going to master the ability to start with happiness and continually expand it.
You can be successful and happy or successful and unhappy. The difference is in how you measure your progress.