We all want happiness, right? So why is it that so many people are unable to get it?

It is remarkably sad that so many people end up devoting their life to things that don’t make them happy. They don’t intend to of course. It just ends up happening that way through decision after small decision. I have worked with hundreds of people who have changed jobs because they felt like they weren’t happy there. They have even gone so far as to identify what made them unhappy (the hours, the flexibility, the boss, the strange policy about beards and shaving). They then having felt good about saying “yes these things are what I don’t want” make a jump to a new job and over the next 6 to 18 months, slowly feel the same way again. Only this time it might be new things, maybe this time you didn’t anticipate there would be annoying coworkers or you got the inner cubicle where you had a sweet office all to yourself at your previous job. You think to yourself “unghh! If this job just didn’t have ____________________”

Happiness Venn Diagram

Many years later people have woken up and at that point devoted a lifetime to running away from something instead of defining what they want and going after it.

To understand how and why this happens, think about it this way. Each choice you make regarding your career can be for one of two purposes, It can be made with the intention of trying to do something that will remove something making you unhappy (like all of the reasons someone might leave a job after identifying what has made them unsatisfied). The other purpose for the choice can be to make a move to the things you have identified that will make you happy (this might be by clearly understanding what does make you happy and cause you joy)

When you read those last you sentences you might at first think “isn’t that the same thing?” I thought this too for years. Here is why they are different:
There are infinite possibilities to do things that avoid making you unhappy. If you successfully avoid a few of these that you have identified it does not necessarily mean you will be working in a role, company, environment, or situation that will make you happy.
In contrast, there are a smaller and finite number of conditions that will make you really happy. Once you have Identified these the rest becomes less important.

I discovered this when my wife, Alyssa, and I had been having little catfights over the course of a few weeks. This was odd for us and I kept thinking “why is she doing this” it seems like I am doing everything possible to avoid her getting mad at me. I have done the dishes, I have vacuumed the house so she didn’t have to, I got home early… And the list went on of things that potentially could make her unhappy.

After several very loud and somewhat less than polite discussions, we finally came to what she really wanted: conversation after spending all day with little kids at home. Adult conversation and feeling a connection with her husband was what really made her happy day after day. Both she and I hadn’t realized this at the time and I obviously had been focused on eliminating the things that she didn’t want.

After we discovered this, I began calling her and having conversations with her on the way home from work, then getting home and taking over dinner and attempting to continue the conversation with the kids hanging around my legs. All of a sudden, even though the dishes and all of those other things were still getting done, they just didn’t matter as much. She was getting what made her happy after having identified it.

Don’t get caught up in this trap in your career. Focus in on the things that truly make you happy and NOT on avoiding the things that make you unhappy. You can do this by determining the things in the past that you have enjoyed at work or at home and not on the things you haven’t. Make a list keep it and continue to add to it as you discover more about yourself. In short order you will have a better perspective on what really makes you happy. Which is all we really want anyways, right?