Pursuing Happiness Does Not Make You Happy

Pam Maroney
3 min readMay 28, 2021
Emotions - good or bad - are like ocean waves

Who at times in their life have thought that if they work really hard at something, that once they achieve it, they think they’re going to feel super happy and satisfied? For instance, you might have thought: “if I just lose more weight, earn more money, go on that holiday, have another child, I will finally feel happy?”…But in reality, when you achieve these things it just doesn’t quite feel as good as you expected. Or that it was short-lived and life just went back to what it always was. Does this sound familiar?

So, if all of this ‘trying-to-only-pursue-things-that-make-me-feel-happy’ concept doesn’t seem to work, and instead we’re left feeling empty or dissatisfied or still wanting more, then what is the other option of what to pursue?

…If pursuing happiness DOESN’T always lead us to feeling happy WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?

The real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of wanting positive feelings all of the time (ie. striving for happiness), which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness, and dissatisfaction.

Due to this pursuit, the mind is never satisfied. Even when experiencing pleasure, the mind is not content, because it worries that this feeling might soon disappear, and craves that this pleasurable feeling should stay.

Let’s think about it in this way….imagine that you are standing on the sea shore, and your emotions, good or bad, are like ocean waves. For instance, there will be waves of good emotions, and waves of bad emotions rolling in. And as the waves roll in you embrace only certain ‘good waves’ and try to prevent them from disintegrating, whilst simultaneously trying to push back the ‘bad waves’ to prevent them from getting near to you. Day in, day out, standing at the shoreline driving yourself crazy and wasting a lot of energy with this fruitless exercise.

People are able to be free from suffering — not when they experience pleasurable feelings all of the time, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and then stop craving the pleasurable ones or pushing away the difficult ones — instead, allowing the waves to roll in without struggling with them.

When the pursuit of happiness stops, the mind becomes clear and satisfied. All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing — joy, anger, boredom, anxiety — but once you stop craving particular feelings or avoiding other ones, you can just accept them for what they are. Just common feelings that are part of the human experience.

You can then live in the present moment instead of wishing that you felt differently, or having to waste your time and precious energy trying to push away or avoid difficult feelings.

So, if all you did was to just sit down on the sand and allow the waves to come and go as they please, how peaceful!

*The metaphor of waves being like emotions has been taken from Dr Russ Harris’ work in relation to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Yuval Noah Harari who wrote ‘Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind’

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Pam Maroney

Pam is an occupational therapist, university teaching associate, published researcher, and co-founder of Kemar Meaningful Directions (mental wellbeing service)