Is Searching for Happiness Making You Unhappy?


Star jump

In order to become happy, you have to find happiness. At least that’s how I think most people see it. And for the most part it’s true since you have to go out into the world and see what works best for you.

But it is only true up to a certain point. Eventually the search for happiness itself can become counter-productive and actually decrease your level of happiness. It all comes down to how you see the world and the mindset you accept as you continue your search.

When Searching is Too Much

So what is it about searching for happiness that can make you less happy? As you search for happiness, you accept two things about yourself.

• I’m not currently as happy as I should be.
• Happiness is something “out there” in the world and I haven’t found it yet.

Both statements are required for those searching out happiness. These are the two driving forces that compel you to continue your search. They also help form your general mindset about how your life is going at the moment.

And really, they’re not bad thoughts themselves if things for you are honestly terrible. If you have major problems or are in a bad situation, these two statements can help motivate you into a better life. They can be really good things.

It’s when your life has become pretty good that they can become counter-productive. Even though things are going pretty well, you might continue to focus entirely on your happiness that is still “out there”. You risk paying more attention on what to get instead of what you already have.

And this lack of attention on what you already have is a problem. You might have some really good things going on about your life, but if you never stop to appreciate them, you don’t allow them to make you feel good. All you think about is what you don’t have.

You could make yourself happier just by stopping your search and taking time to appreciate all the good things you’ve made for yourself. This is impossible to do if your only concern is looking for ways to make things better.

The Paradox of Happiness

This can trap you in something like a paradox. You search for happiness and get some good things, but don’t stop your search to appreciate them. Because you don’t appreciate what you have, you feel unhappy. This makes you continue your search for happiness. It’s one big loop.

Unless you’re in a bad situation or things are going terribly wrong, focusing entirely on your search for happiness is the wrong approach. Now I’m not saying that you should ever stop searching for things that make you happy. But more focus should be paid attention to the things you have, not the things you don’t have.

Here’s what you can do to avoid this trap:

1. Spread out your focus

Don’t spend all your time thinking about what you should get. All this will do is make you feel worse about yourself. Make sure to spend an equal amount of time appreciating all the things you have going on around you.

2. Stop comparing

One trouble with focusing too much on what to get is that you’ll end up comparing yourself to other people and what they have. Comparing yourself to other people will only make you feel worse about yourself. It’s alright to make goals for yourself and set standards, but obsessing over comparisons with other people is counter-productive.

3. Make gratitude a habit

If you don’t stop once in a while to appreciate how your life is going, you’ll never find happiness. Make feeling grateful about yourself and your life a routine habit. This will make sure you never lose sight of all the good things you have.

Re-focus Yourself

One of the biggest truisms about happiness is that it is all a state of mind. Basically that means you can make yourself happier by changing nothing about yourself except the way you look at the world. That’s hardly a new thought.

But you could extend that by saying unhappiness is also a state of mind. So you could also be making yourself unhappier through your thoughts. One simple change of focus could make all the difference. It might just be the right time to shift focus from what you don’t have to what you do have.
photo credit: stuant63

Join 20,000 Monthly Readers
Get weekly strategies for motivation, travel and living life on your terms.
Get free ebook 10 Ways to Travel Endlessly - the amazing methods that have already helped thousands travel faster, better and cheaper.


  1. I think all too often people fail to appreciate the things they have in front of them, while they wish they had other things, and it is only looking back that they realise what they missed out on. It is definitely worth appreciating the good things in life every day.

    • Hey Liv, I think wishing for other things can only make you focus on what you don’t have. And that can be a depressing thought. I agree that you should definitely appreciate all the good things you have in life every day.

  2. Thank you so much for this insightful piece. There are so many good points. Where do I begin? You are so right about comparisons being a happiness killer! Appreciating what we have when we have it is true happiness.

    Seeking out happiness does create the paradoxical bout of unhappiness as our attention starts focusing on what is not going well. I know for me, when I am feeling my most miserable I force myself to think through things I’m grateful for. Since it can be hard at those moments to come up with positives, I start with the people who make my life easier. Once I get the ball rolling, the wonderful components of my life come to the forefront of my mind. I always leave the exercise feeling so much better.

    • Hi Tammy, I’m glad you like the post. That’s a great exercise to do to make yourself feel better and happier about your life. I haven’t tried that before. One thing I used to do that worked well for me was to think about all the good things I have going on for me each night before I go to sleep. It really puts everything into perspective and puts you into a great mood before the day is over. I think the key thing is to find something that gets you to stop thinking about what you don’t have and gets you thinking about what you do have.

  3. Comparing ourselves to others is the always such an energy sucker.

    I feel the best way to combat it,is to compare ourselves with ourselves. Other people have different goals in lives. And the decisions they made in life brought them to where they are. By comparing ourselves to them and wanting to live and be like them. We do rob ourselves of the opportunity to truly live to our fullest potential. And the freedom to live life on our own terms and achieve the happiness that we so desire.


    • Hey Veeh, I like the way you put that. Compare ourselves with ourselves. I think the best part about it is that it makes you look at yourself and not at others. You can find things you don’t have, but it doesn’t make you feel bad. In fact, I can see self-reflectin like that being motivational. A little change like that can make a big difference.

  4. So very true, Steve. Being a bit of a perfectionist (but far from perfect), I struggle with comparison. Happiness really is a state of mind that we, for the most part, do have control over. Now it’s applying this wisdom that can be the tricky part, especially in this digital world where everyone is showing off the best bits of their lives.

    • Hey Holly, I know what you mean about being a prefectionist. I’ve struggled with it too. Part of what makes it a problem is that you really do compare yourself to other people. But it is something you can get control over.

      You’re right that happiness is a state of mind. Getting control over your thoughts can be a big step towards feeling better about yourself.

  5. Hmm.

    It’s a subject that intrigues me, but I think it has to have something to do with under-thinking the problem, simplicity – i.e. it’s something worth addressing as briefly as possible.

    I read a book recently “Comment je suis devenu stupide” (How I became stupid) – it’s about a man who was really intelligent but getting stressed and he tried various approaches to make himself more stupid so he could be happier. It was a humorous book but I think there is some truth in the paradox here – really intelligent people often worry too much about things (because they think and analyse too much) on a similar note lots of really great comedians are often depressed in real life.

    I left a comment on G+ recently, somebody had linked to an overly-complex scientific article about happiness and I commented “how about happiness = being able to enjoy simple projects

    just a thought ;-)”

    I was a little ridiculed for saying that: “… I suspect a truer version would include more than one aspect…”

    when I then said “… If you reach a place where you are able to enjoy the simpler things in life, and simple projects, then perhaps you have addressed some of the other aspects you speak of… Or, perhaps you realise it was never that complicated in the first place…”

    then the guy seemed to get it.

    So either make yourself more stupid or go find some simple projects to occupy your busy mind 😉

    “Economists do it with Models”

    • As the saying goes, “ignorance is bliss” ;-P

      (I’m not sure ‘ignorance’ is the correct word to use, but you get the point_

    • Hey Alan, I think you make a great point. I’ve often wondered the connection between intelligence and unhappiness. I’m not sure how much of a connection there is because I know some intelligent people who are happy and some people who aren’t that smart who are unhappy. But it could very well be in how they approach everything. Perhaps it all comes down to how much they analyze life. The smarter you are the more deeply you’ll probably look at everything and also realize what you don’t have. I think everyone has the ability to analyze things, but it seems as if smarter people just do it more often. Maybe that’s what makes people think the smarter you are, the unhappier you are.


  1. […] the past several years I’ve read self-improvement books and awesome articles like is searching for happiness making me more unhappy and I read and re-read Reid Hoffman’s deck on The Startup of You just to get a simple answer […]

Speak Your Mind