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

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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: Flickr/ Alan O’Rourke


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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.


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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!

kessipearls Jan 25, 2019 1:15am

This was very down to earth and completely agree with every word.
People are always looking for happiness, that’s why they can never find it where they are.
Doing what makes you happy, but don’t make someone else unhappy in the process.

nigel-hawkins Jan 24, 2019 12:53pm

Our natural state is bliss or happiness. This occurs when we look inward. It is when we start to look outside of ourselves we find problem. When we have learned to love our Selves & do the work ( it’s not work!) that we love, we make others happy, which of course makes us happy. This is the way of nature & the universe. We get back what we put out ?

Katherine Rosenthal Jan 24, 2019 12:46pm

So much Yes to this! What we *think* makes us happy is often at the expense of others and/or our planet, making it indeed “not ok” or even “wrong”. As we say in Yoga, if you are going to be selfish, be selfish in seeking the warm fuzzy feeling you get from being a good person and helping others. Obviously self-care and appropriate boundaries are vital, but there is a large beautiful meadow available to us that lays between greedy ego-driven selfishness and destructive doormat behavior. Frolic in that meadow — it’s heavenly.

anonymous Jan 24, 2019 11:48am

So, as with everything else here, yes and no. Yes, do what makes you happy. And no, you may do no harm. This is the perfect Conscious Awareness Barometer… Are you here to GET? or Are you here to SHARE?… Always in love, Zía LaTaína.

Hilton Barnett Jan 24, 2019 11:27am

Yup. I think the pursuit of happiness is unhealthy in many ways. We need to pursue growth, learning and authenticity, which includes responsibility. This can make us happy, but that is not a permanent state nor should it be the goal. In doing so we could still cause pain for others, but this is not the same as selfishly running after one’s happiness no matter what. It is a difficult line to walk though.

gomatt1959 Jan 24, 2019 9:16am

Excellent. Hope a lot read and get the messages?

Mlonner Jan 24, 2019 8:45am

we don’t know what “Lulu 1’s” life was really about, and yet we still feel fine giving her this condescending label, maybe because it makes us feel better ourselves to put her in a box to make a point. We don’t know if this comment was just one emotional wave in a sea of turmoil about her actions and pending divorce. Sometimes at our darkest moments we need to come up from drowning in self judgment and hatred for a gulp of self righteousness just to get through the day/hour/minute. We all search for happiness and have a very low threshold of discomfort. I appreciate the article’s intention but I can’t help feel the lack of compassion for this woman that is portrayed here as one dimensional through an overheard conversation that was none of the writer’s business. I think comparison of ourselves vs others is so prevelent on social media, reality tv, etc, and we all know it’s part of the search for happiness, as other’s difficulties leave us feeling better about our own imperfections. I prefer to think she’s doing the best she can in the situation she’s in. She’ll probably grow and change through this situation. Without compassion there can be no real happiness.

    Helen Harvey Jan 24, 2019 11:33am

    Wow! Youre right! Just the words Lulu 1 and drinking their chi latte’ sets us up for thinking these are elitist spoiled brats. We automatically judged and felt negatively toward them. I tried substituing a different situation, different clothing and drinks however and I still feel the message of chasing happiness in the wrong ways (just moving the knick knacks) rather than doing the internal work and doing good for others was there. Yeah, we should try not to judge on clothing and chi lattes!

Cristina Loayza Jan 24, 2019 8:24am

At last someone writes what is truly going on wrong in the world, your article should be published in ALL MEDIA outlets, newspapers, TV, magazines, etc. Yes, you are right, too right I would venture to say. AND I would add that if one opines differently from what is deemed “right”, then there is this sort of attack that one is doing something wrong!!! Like is you’re not the with the “mainstream”, then one is automatically wrong… in this case, one has the vision to see what will be the general downfall of the “happiness” movement going the wrong way

Andy Sweet Jan 24, 2019 8:16am

Thought provoking, on point, and funny!

Helen Harvey Jan 24, 2019 7:54am

Ive never worried about my kids’ “happiness”. Sure I loved bringing smiles to their faces and genuine awe into their world. However my goal /purpose has been to raise healthy goal-oriented, independent, contributors to society. Thats what makes me most content and its been the hardest work Ive ever done or even imagined. I feel once you put a human on this earth its your responsibility to create “healthy independent contributors”. Happiness? Yeah, I think its generational, we’re learning and hopefully young parents will stop feeding themselves and their kids that line of “bullshit”.

Bobby Clark Jan 24, 2019 7:42am


tracyntanner Jan 24, 2019 7:17am

Yes! Yes! Yes! I learned this lesson myself after a period of reckless abandon (which I thought was exploring my sexuality) after my divorce. I needed this article to give context and meaning to what I eventually decided was just hedonism. Thanks for the reminder to seek happiness at the soul level and not at the expense of my true self, or others’.

celine.objois Jan 24, 2019 7:00am

Very well written!
Doing what makes you happy and hurt the loved ones in the process – can’t be called happiness, there is no such things as being happy without strong values and hard work! Happiness is about being aware that we can’t have it all and when we choose to do something we are accountable for our choices. Nowadays in the US or the likes, we can choose who we marry and we are allowed to divorce, so if one decides to stay in an unhappy marriage, why screw things further by cheating? That sentence “I mean, am I wrong for wanting to be happy?” is just bad faith and not taking responsibility of being part of a family.

anonymous Mar 5, 2016 6:22am

AMEN!!! You are absolutely right and I hope this ridiculous "do what makes you happy" fairytale-bullshit is a cultural phenomenon that we soon grow out of. Do you think the Oprah show with its glittery-syrupy overriding theme of "find-your-soul's-purpose" started this madness in America? I wonder…

anonymous Mar 3, 2016 8:35pm

Definitely more to the story.

anonymous Feb 22, 2016 7:12pm

Thank you so much for this! Yes, indeed, someone needed to say this. As a millennial, I'm often bombarded with messages from fellow millennials about how I should just do what makes me happy. Yes, happiness is important, but it's not the only thing that matters. Not to mention, I think when some people say "do what makes you happy," they think of instant gratification – do what makes you happy NOW, rather than work on something that will give you happiness in the long run but not necessarily in an instant. My ex left me recently because he didn't want to work on our issues; he said he didn't want to wait for them to be fixed any longer. His friends cheered him on for "dumping that bitch" because I wasn't making him happy anymore. "As long as you're happy, we're happy too," they've been telling him. Now he's celebrating his freedom, living it up, and getting close to all sorts of other women. I wanted to stay and work on our issues, so it still really hurts me to this day, but I suppose I need someone more serious. (Also someone with less terrible friends – they're all for the pursuit of happiness, no matter how selfish they're being.)

    anonymous Feb 22, 2016 11:03pm

    Oh, Anne, I'm sorry you're going through that. You are completely right, though. It sounds like you matured much quicker than your ex and his friends—and quicker than a lot of people who are a whole lot older than you.

    I wish you love and real happiness, and I have a feeling it is very much out there for you!

anonymous Feb 21, 2016 9:48pm

A real disconnect here. A lecture on selfishness from someone stealing space from another business, to run their own business. This story could jus as well be "how am I going to afford to keep my business going if Starbuck's kicks me out?" Ah, the irony.

    anonymous Feb 22, 2016 5:24am

    Lol! Starbucks and other coffeehouses are made for people like me who freelance or work online. That’s why they have free WiFi. Without Starbucks, we go to libraries and other public places, or heaven forbid, work from home like we usually do.

    What an interesting space your comment is coming from. Not sure I’m relating to it.

anonymous Feb 20, 2016 2:21pm

This is so true… thank you for being a voice of reason in a world of self centered insanity.

I was a version of the husband you described just a few years ago, only I offered her forgiveness. I offered to work things out, after all, we had been together 27 years, and married nearly 25, and I loved her dearly. Her response was “I’ve done nothing to be forgiven for…”, and you can’t work anything out with someone who “wants out.”

It worked out for the best. She married the guy she cheated with, a year to the day of the divorce. She’s his train wreck now.

I’ve been seeing a lady I’ve known for some time, and she went through the same thing. We will be married late this year… but she makes it a point to say “you make me happier”, not just happy. She was already happy. I was happy after the divorce, once I got past the heartbreak and betrayal… when you have no one lying to you, you can be pretty damn happy… so yes, I’m happier, too.

We live in a “throw away” society… from TVs to shoes, no one wants to fix things anymore. It’s a shame. Thank God there’s still a few who will try to fix something if it’s broken.

Thanks again Amanda. Your words are music to my ears.

    anonymous Feb 20, 2016 5:12pm

    Your story sounds incredibly familiar! I have heard it told with different faces and different places so many times in the last year. What's interesting to me is that, unlike in the past, it's often women who are stepping out. I have to think it has something to do with the whole "do what makes you happy" message we hear all the time now. I do believe we should be happy, but we're looking for it in all the wrong places because we're chasing the wrong kind of happiness.

    Your words meant a lot to me. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

anonymous Feb 18, 2016 12:45pm

This is great. THANK YOU for taking the time to write this!

anonymous Feb 18, 2016 9:02am

This is so true. Too many people today equate happiness with hedonism. The reality is that their happiness is usually causing harm to others. Whet here it be multi-billionaires dunning themselves on yaghts while their workers can barely afford food, or people pursuing sexual pleasure while leaving lives shattered and destroyed around them.

One of the best works I’ve seen on this topic is the TED Talk “The Paradox of Choice.” As long as “happiness” is equated with corporeal pleasure, others will suffer, and one is never satisfied.

    anonymous Feb 18, 2016 10:19am

    Exactly, Julie! I'll have to check out that TED Talk!

anonymous Feb 18, 2016 6:50am

Such a pleasure to read. Thank you.

The idea that there are payoffs and costs for all we think and do, whether you call it Karma or common sense seems to have become passé. Or it has been replaced by what you can get with. Which really is more about ignoring consequences than anything else.

I find the real casualty here, long before relationships fall apart and immaturity reigns, is a shutting down of attention. You simply have to be oblivious, which is a fancy word for not noticing.

All that not-present has folks grow old without growing up which makes them mean, alone and ugly. They aren't likely to notice that either, it will just be another "shit happens".

But it doesn't, we co-create it always!

Fired me up this morning you did. Take some credit for that if you will…

    anonymous Feb 18, 2016 10:18am

    Jerry, I take that as a fantastic compliment, coming from you! Thank you!

anonymous Feb 17, 2016 5:11pm

I agree this bullshit has to stop. I met many people confusing being sincere with telling other people whatever comes to their minds at the moment without consideration of how the other person feels. And they say that they are genuine and true to themselves and that they just follow their own path etc. Somewhere this beautiful philosophy of self actualization, expression and doing what makes you happy kind of thing is going too far. You cannot use this as an excuse for words or actions that hurt.

    anonymous Feb 17, 2016 5:55pm

    Essss to the yessss!!! I agree completely, Zoi!

anonymous Feb 17, 2016 4:35pm

Very nicely said Amanda. It resonates very strongly with what I was trying to get across in my first elephant journal article, Be Yourself and Other Bullsh*t http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/08/be-yoursel