February 17, 2016

Why “Do What Makes You Happy” is Bullsh*t.


So there I was, sitting at my usual seat at Starbucks, my computer and I both chugging along on caffeinated WiFi as I pecked through a pile of virtual paperwork to the beat of a David Arkenstone tune.

When I am working, I’m usually fairly oblivious to people around me, but I lost my focus when two women sat down at an adjoining table with Lululemons and chai tea lattes.

I’d hate to say I was eavesdropping, because really, it’s more like active involuntary listening when people are talking two feet from my ear. In any case, I tried to get my work mojo back, but instead learned far too much about a total stranger. I gathered from their very detailed conversation that Lulu number one was a stay-at-home mom. She’d been married for more years than I could count on two hands, and she’d had a series of affairs.

Her husband, who she didn’t seem to have any big issues with, other than he “worked all the time and wasn’t there” for her, apparently found out about her infidelity and, after realizing it had been going on for a while, wasn’t willing or able to forgive and forget. He filed for divorce, her kids were angry and confused, and she wasn’t sure how she was supposed to support herself now that she was going to be on her own.

Lulu number two nodded her head and made supportive noises as her friend talked.

“I mean, am I wrong for wanting to be happy?” Lulu one asked her friend.

For a moment, I was back in my desk in elementary school, my hand darting high toward the sky the second my teacher asked who knew how to spell a vocabulary word. “I know! I know!” I wanted to shout.

Because yes. Yes, something is wrong with that. Doing what makes us “happy” at the expense of everyone around us is sometimes some of the biggest WTF-ery there is.

In fact, sometimes pursuing happiness doesn’t mean you’re empowered or enlightened; it just means you’re an asshole.

There is a huge movement (for lack of a better word) for us as evolving human beings to find our truth and live out our purpose. It’s fantastic in many ways, but an awful lot of us just aren’t getting it right.

We’re confusing truth with reckless abandonment and purpose with selfishness, and we’re hurting ourselves, and those who love us, in the process.

I say this not out of some kind of authority or superiority, but because I’ve made my own mistakes. None of us escapes this life without learning lessons on ego, but what disturbs me most is that it is becoming almost universally accepted among the spiritual seekers of the world (and I am one) that the pursuit of happiness is the most important quest in life.

Sometimes, we’re just doing “happy” wrong.

There are different kinds of happiness. For example, there is the joy we get from being kind or doing good in the world. There is the happiness we feel when we truly connect with other people. There is an inner happiness we get from finding purpose in life and aligning passion with compassion. These are great. Run toward this happiness.

But what so many of us are failing to grasp is that there is a selfish kind of happiness that may look and feel real, but that is really just a temporary rush of nice chemicals in our brains. Whether it comes from indulging addictions, cheating on our partners, or making any other attempt to satisfy our egos, it is only an illusion.

Once it wears off (and it will), this short-term fulfillment will only lead to emptiness.

I’m sure there is a lot about Starbucks Lulu’s situation that I don’t know, and I’m willing to concede that, no doubt, there is more to it. But her story is becoming all-too-common. I hear it all the time. As so many of us begin to embrace the power of authenticity and self-realization, we need to be careful not to focus our quest inward so much that we lose sight of our interconnectedness.

Happiness blooms where it is planted, and where it is watered. Instead of throwing away marriages, destroying families, and uprooting lives, we can learn to nurture our passions, become better communicators, and to open our eyes to the beauty all around us.

We can be brave without being selfish, and we can be happy without the bullsh*t.


Author: Amanda Christmann

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Brook Cagle/Unsplash


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Melissa Peterson Jan 28, 2019 10:21am

This really spoke to me. My husband cheated on me, lied, we got divorced and he got married to the woman he was cheating on 6 weeks later. Even though we went to counseling, he never put any effort into it. Just sat there and said nothing. He just went for his “happiness” the easiest route possible; not caring that the grass is greener where you water and nurture it.

Jeannine d'Entremont Jan 27, 2019 9:05am

A very well-written and spot-on piece. It’s important to be happy, but happiness is fleeting and it can’t come at the expense of others. In relationships, though, there is such a thing as boundaries and having healthy ones contributes to our happiness.

jzagroba Jan 25, 2019 10:07pm

Pure wisdom!

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Amanda Christmann

Amanda Christmann is a freelance writer and editor who loves good words, good wine and good times with friends and family. She travels the world as a human rights advocate and activist, particularly on issues that involve human trafficking and women’s empowerment. She is an avid cyclist and runs with scissors, whenever possible. In addition to elephant journal, her work has been featured by Women For One, Tattooed Buddha and ImagesAZ magazine, among other publications. Connect with Amanda via her Facebook page.