In this week’s issue of Time magazine there is a fascinating article on the “Happiness of Pursuit“. The article focuses on the culture in the United States. Why is it so hard for Americans to be happy when it was declared as part of their independence? Part of the problem is that thing inside our skulls. In a research study at Harvard and Boston University an analysis showed that search or pursuit feels better than the seeing the finished product. This is why we enjoy shopping rather than buying. This is why hunting is more fun than bagging the prey. There is a reason politicians have a much better time running for office that holding it. Personally, starting a new project and getting it off the ground is more enjoyable than finishing it off and moving on. Why is this?
Why the Pursuit Brings Happiness
The grass is always greener on the other side. This is a saying I have heard for as long as I can remember. As a young boy, a teenager and even a college student I could not grasp the true meaning. As a business professional and a man who has been in out of too many relationships to count, I can now say that I understand the underlying meaning that the grass is always greener on the other side. In the last several months I have learned quite a bit from a volunteer experience at a local retirement community. One of the most important things I learned was to appreciate what we have.
You will never have it all. There will always be someone who is stronger, more athletic, smarter, richer, wiser or more successful. No matter how much money you have, there will always be opportunities to earn more. No matter how many followers you have on a social media website, there will be more that sign up every single day. This is a tough pill to swallow for those of us that are “numbers” people. We find a way to assign a number to anything and this causes problems when we are pursuing personal happiness.
The studies by researchers at Harvard and Boston University illustrate that the pursuit is more enjoyable than the final product because serotonin and dopamine are considered feel good neurotransmitters. The more you have of them, the happier you are. “In the case of immigrants the power of the chemicals is that they regulate what researchers straightforwardly call search activity; forward looking behavior that often occurs in the pursuit of a specific goal. Searching activity simply feels good.”
I think we can all agree that searching for something stimulates the brain in a way like nothing else. Once the search is complete we are almost let down. The pursuit brings about the happiness. Unfortunately, once the pursuit is complete we must find something else to stimulate our brains. This makes it quite difficult to cherish what we already have. As an American, we are breed to pursue bigger and better things as this is the only way to be happy. Right?
Enjoy the Pursuit, But Enjoy Life Even More
I am an individual that loves nothing more than challenging myself – both physically and mentally. I admit that the pursuit is amazing. The increased heart rate while just starting that workout is a surreal experience. After the work out is over I expect to feel better but it rarely happens. We have all heard of “runner’s high”. If you have ever felt it you know how extraordinary the experience can be. Once you stop running it disappears immediately.
The same happens when it comes to mental stimulation. When starting that new project there is a special feeling that puts you in a state of bliss. You are willing to work long hours into the night just to get the project off the ground. Once things are up and running there is an urge to find this state of happiness again. Unfortunately, the completed work does not bring about the same happiness. We enjoy seeing our companies thrive but there is always the next best thing just around the corner.
Finding a way to enjoy the pursuit while also stepping back and enjoying life can be a difficult process for Americans. It is not all our fault. We have been breed to figure out the next best thing. Even though this is true, I urge you to step back and enjoy what you have created. Take a moment to realize you just ran a mile under six minutes. Do not think about breaking five minutes and 50 seconds. Step back and look at the successful project you completed. Try not to think about the next one that will be getting started tomorrow. It will help you to achieve true happiness.