On the Pursuit of Happiness

Finding the calm in the storm of life

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.
—Marcus Aurelius

Happiness is the only worthy pursuit.

There is a saying there are only two things guaranteed in life: death and taxes. It’s not wrong is it?

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is one idea that remains, only one idea that makes sense: to be as happy as you possibly can. In 2019, Ipsos carried out a study and found that only 14 percent of people were very happy. Among 28 countries surveyed, happiness is most prevalent in Canada and Australia (both with 86 percent of adults describe themselves as “very” or “rather” happy) followed by China and Britain (83 percent), France (80 percent), and the United States (79 percent).

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With so many options to spend our time and money, it’s easy to get stuck in a state of consumption. We consume food, television, and social media. In recent years, we also started consuming “experiences.”

We feel the pressure to keep spending. We fear that without consumption life is boring. We have this unhealthy drive to buy happiness.

It makes me think of Viktor Frankl, the famous author who survived the Holocaust. In his book, Yes to Life, he debunks the idea of pursuing happiness.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Happiness should not, must not, and can never be a goal, but only an outcome… all human striving for happiness, in this sense, is doomed to failure as luck can only fall into one’s lap but can never be hunted down.”

Martin Seligman (1942-), a strong promoter of positive psychology, theorizes that 60 percent of happiness is determined by our genetics and environment and the remaining 40 percent is how we choose to respond. He summarized fulfillment and happiness as “consisting of knowing what your highest strengths are and using them to belong to, and in the service of, something larger than you are.”

Related article: Experience the Journey Within

There are dozens of researchers like Seligman who have studied the art and science of happiness. I’ve dived into the habits of the happiest people and decided to share them with you here. Here are the ingredients to a happy life.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Less is more

An ancient Greek philosopher named Diogenes of Sinope (c. 412-323 B.C.) built the idea that he has the most who is most content with the least.

Today we see this play out in many ways, most notably with the minimalism movement. Essentially it plays into this idea that a life lived with less ‘stuff’ leads to a happier one because in the absence of these desires you can enjoy the real stuff in life. The happiest people desire much less than the average Joe.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. The seduction of speed

There is more to life than increasing its speed.
—Mahatma Gandhi

Modern life and modern business tend to center around speed. Convenience stores, fast food, next-day delivery, all of that stuff is about not waiting. Rushing through and not spending time absorbing everything life has to offer. Not enjoying the smallest aspects of life for what they are leads to a lesser life. Slowing down can lead to enjoying the world around you. The happiest people abandon rushing about for the sake of slowing down.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Relax

Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that’s very important for good health.
—Dalai Lama

The dictionary definition of “relax” is aspirational and healing: “to make or become less tense or anxious.” For some folks, relaxation takes the form of zoning out in front of a TV. For others, gardening or tending to the house offers calming effects. Whatever your chosen method of relaxation—whether it be time spent horizontally in a hammock or RVing to your favorite camping site—rest should be a built-in part of everyone’s daily routine.

Related article: The Power of Mindfulness

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Deep reading

Books are not the quickest way to consume information. The new era of information gathering means books are perhaps one of the slowest. However, time, depth, and attention all matter when comprehending new information. The time it takes to read a book, to read a book is the very thing that makes it magical. It demands your undivided attention for a considerable time. The happiest people give that willingly.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Live life today

We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.
—Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes

Life can be sabotaged by thinking of the past and worrying about the future. You forget what is right in front of you. That can lead to a life less lived. Instead, spend time at this moment. You are right there, absorbing the words here and asking questions of yourself at the moment.

That’s what the happiest people I know do.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Little is large

Everyone is trying to accomplish something big, not realizing that life is made up of little things.

—Frank A. Clark

It’s the smallest things in life that we often overlook as a total inconvenience. Mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cleaning the house, weeding the garden, washing the RV! They all feel like necessary evils. You speed through them to make it to the other side and then you can enjoy your day. Not so fast; the small things make up most of your day. The happiest people enjoy the small things—they know they are the big things.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Enjoy the moment

It turns out that taking the time to “smell the roses” truly does enhance happiness in life. When you enjoy the small moments—good or bad—you’re more aware of what’s happening around you. The happiest people focus on what they can control and it’s possible to choose happiness at the moment, no matter the struggles you may be going through.

Related article: Bird Therapy: On the Healing Effects of Watching Birds

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Growth mindset

In the book Mindset, Carol Dweck explains that the most successful and happy people have what she calls a “growth mindset” compared to a “fixed mindset.” A fixed mindset seeks success as an affirmation of intelligence or worth; a growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence or unworthiness but as a catalyst for growth and stretching beyond existing abilities. After twenty years of research, Dweck concluded that those with a growth mindset had happier relationships, achieved more success, and were much more persistent through challenges.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Have a dream

Without a future to look toward, the past is the only thing we can look back on. Whether your dream is to travel America in an RV, start your own business, or learn a new language, having a dream is one of the most important things in remaining optimistic when things get tough. This concept of having a purpose is especially prevalent in Eastern Asia. In Japan, there’s an actual term called ikigai which is translated as “the reason you wake up in the morning.” When some of the happiest and longest-living people were studied, they all had such a reason.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Luck and life

Luck (or random chance) question talent. Work hard and be successful. Save money and have enough for a rainy day. Build good habits and live a long life. The reality though is that people who do these things can still get unlucky. They become ill or make a bad decisions. While I can do everything in my power to take advantage of the opportunities afforded to me, I can also recognize the rightful place of bad luck and not beat myself up at every setback. What about you? Does recognizing the role of random chance make you feel better or worse? Do you agree that much of life is due to luck? The happiest people understand that random choice is a large part of life and they accept it for what it is.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Lifetime Learning

Despite his early onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Stephen Hawking has made prominent scientific discoveries. What is more, he has found the words to tell the world about his findings. Like Hawking, the happiest people all have one thing in common. They are lifelong learners, constantly reading new books, exploring other cultures, learning new languages, etc. It is an ongoing process because without growth there’s no life.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The happiest 14%

It’s easy to rush through life, forgetting all the little things, focusing on tomorrow, and wanting all the things that big advertisers show you.

It’s easy to compare and question ‘why not me?’ when it comes to success and money. Those things are built in us by the markets that consume us. If we want for more and strive for better, we buy more and more.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead, though, the happiest people enjoy life for what it is, a game of luck. And find joy in the tiny things, like mowing the lawn or reading a good book.

I always remind myself of this. Happiness is a byproduct of usefulness. Of dedicating your life to something bigger than you!

Related article: On Camping and Spending Time in Nature

When you find something and dedicate your life to it, joy will arise automatically.

What makes you happy? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Happiness resides not in possessions and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.
—Democritus (c. 460-c. 370 BC)

Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.

—Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)

It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.

—Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)