Is Happiness a Dangerous Goal?

HappinessAs I speak to various groups, I often ask the audience members what they want out of life. Almost everyone says, “I just want to be happy.

I would suggest that that’s not a good goal. Happiness comes when certain things happen, and sometimes you just can’t make things “happen” the way you would like. So you end up a little disillusioned.

The goal of happiness may even be a dangerous goal for some people. As they pursue happiness, looking for the quick fix that takes away their troubles, they move towards addictive behavior. They become alcoholics, shopaholics, or any one of a number of other dysfunctions.

A much healthier goal would be that of joy. Joy is a lifestyle that does not depend on things to “happen.” You can have it anytime, all the time. Indeed, joyful people know that happiness is nothing more than the bonus they receive for living their lives a certain way.

And joy is a mindset. As Samuel Ullman said,

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.

There’s even a strong connection between your joy and your age expectancy. The most recent study was conducted on 660 people over age 50 in Oxford, Ohio. In 1975 they answered questions having to do with several things, including their attitudes about aging. They were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with statements such as: “Things keep getting worse as I get older,” “I have as much pep as I did last year,” and “I am as happy now as I was when I was younger.

Researchers checked to see which participants were still alive in 1998, and they noted when the others had died. It turned out that those who viewed aging as a positive experience lived, on average, 7.5 years longer than those who took a darker view.

According to Mary Duenwald, of the New York Times News Service, that is an advantage far greater than what can be gained from lowering blood pressure or reducing cholesterol, each of which can add four years to your life. It also beats exercise, non-smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight, strategies that add one to three years.


The power of a joyful, optimistic mindset was further strengthened by Mayo Clinic research. In 2000, Dr. Toshihiko Maruta reviewed psychological tests given to more than 800 people in the early 60’s. Based on the people’s responses, he classified 197 of them as pessimists. He then checked to see how long they lived. Maruta found that the pessimists had a risk of death that was 19% greater than average for any given year.

The question is–how do you get this pervasive joy? How do you get this powerful, all-encompassing optimism that lengthens your life, strengthens your family, and takes your work team to the outer limits of peak performance?

Aeschylus, the great philosopher of antiquity, answered those questions by saying joy comes from the health of the soul. Joy does not come from things; it does not come from entertainment. It comes from the health of the soul.

It’s one of the key topics I address in my new program, Up Your Attitude: 6 Secrets That Turn Your Potential In To Performance.  To get an outline of this exciting new program, click here.

Well that’s fine and dandy, but what does that mean? Let me give you a few hints. A joyful life or a healthy soul has several components.


1. Realize the importance of today.

As Goethe wrote, “Nothing is worth more than this day.

We are so accustomed to being alive that we can take it for granted. We might not even notice the thrill and excitement of life. And we may have unwittingly lost the curiosity and wonderment we had as a child.

Maybe you need to get up in the morning, look out the window, or go outside and think, “It’s great to be alive. Life itself is a tremendous thing. And this day is an important day in my life!” Every day is utterly precious and needs to be treated as such. That’s why Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.

A second component of a joyful life is …


2.  Keep your focus on the positive.

You’ve got to focus more on your fortunes than your misfortunes.

Dale Carnegie, the author of Stop Worrying and Start Living, talked about that a long time ago. Once when he was deeply depressed, he struggled long and hard to pull himself out of his depression, but he couldn’t do it.

Then he had an idea. He took a sheet of paper and began assuming he had lost everything. He listed everything he had lost — his health was gone, his wife had left, his job had disappeared, his money was spent, his children were imprisoned, and his house was blown away.

He sat back and studied his list. He realized there wasn’t a word of truth in it, and with that realization he tore up his list. He said this little exercise helped him focus on what he did have — his good fortune, assets, and blessings.

What about you? What are you focusing on? No matter how bad you have it, if you’re reading this email, you’re probably quite blessed.

According to some statistics, if you wake up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who will not survive the week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world. If you can attend a church without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than three billion people in the world.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy. And if you can read this article, you are more blessed than the two billion people in the world that cannot read at all.

When you focus on what you have, joy is the result. But when you wait for things to happen before you can be happy, you may wait a long, long time. After all, most of us will never get the really big prizes in life — at least the ones defined by society at large.

I think United Technologies said it best. In a full-page spread in the Wall Street Journal, they wrote:

Many of us miss out on life’s big prizes. The Pulitzer. The Nobel. Oscars. Tonys. Emmys. But we’re all eligible for life’s small pleasures. A pat on the back. A kiss behind the ear. A four-pound bass. A full moon. An empty parking space. A crackling fire. A great meal. A glorious sunset. Don’t fret about copping life’s grand awards. Enjoy its tiny delights. There are plenty for all of us.

United Technologies knew something about focus and a joyful life. They knew something about the counting of blessings. I hope you do as well.

I expand on this and several other life-changing strategies in my newest book, The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work.

But I’ll finish my second point with this. I said you’ve got to focus on what you have, count your blessings, and then …


3. Consciously practice an attitude of gratitude.

One of my “Tuesday Tip” readers put it this way.

I am thankful:

  • For the teenager who is not doing dishes but is watching TV,
    Because that means he is at home and not on the streets;
  • For the taxes that I pay,
    Because it means that I am employed;
  • For the mess to clean after a party,
    Because it means that I have been surrounded by friends;
  • For the clothes that fit a little too snug,
    Because it means I have enough to eat;
  • For my shadow that watches me work,
    Because it means I am out in the sunshine;
  • For a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing,
    Because it means I have a home;
  • For all the complaining I hear about the government,
    Because it means that we have freedom of speech;
  • For the parking spot I find at the far end of the parking lot,
    Because it means I have been blessed with transportation;
  • For my huge heating bill,
    Because it means I am warm;
  • For the lady behind me in church that sings off key,
    Because it means that I can hear;
  • For the pile of laundry and ironing,
    Because it means I have clothes to wear;
  • For weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day,
    Because it means I have been capable of working hard;
  • For the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours,
    Because it means that I am alive;
  • And finally…..For too much e-mail,
    Because it means I have friends who are thinking of me.


Stop waiting for things to happen so you can be happy. Start focusing on your fortunes instead of your misfortunes. List 100 things you are thankful for and the joy in your life will become more encompassing.