Whenever we chase after something, we take ourselves out of the present moment where life actually happens. The future doesn’t exist yet and the past is gone. The only really meaningful place to live is in the now and that’s generally where you’ll find what you’re looking for. Others may say you should be chasing these 14 things to be happy and successful, but take a deeper look and decide for yourself. You may think differently after you read this.
1. Chasing “the Dream”
“Let the world know why you’re here, and do it with passion.” ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer
Before you start chasing THE dream, make sure that it’s YOUR dream you’re chasing! I’ve found that most people don’t get what they want in life because they’re playing out someone else’s idea of who they should be.
Take “Anne,” for example, a small quiet woman who used to drag herself into my weekly Reinventing Yourself workshop after spending all day at a job she hated. She became a dental hygienist because her mother wanted her to be like her older sister, who became one because on career day in high school the girl sitting next to her said, “Hey, why don’t you become a dental hygienist?” A few months later her sister married a wealthy dentist and never had to work again. Anne, on the other hand, had been doing it for 30 years.
Anne never invented herself in the first place. She’s not the only one. Many of us aren’t leading authentic lives. The number one regret of people on their deathbed is that they did not live THEIR dreams. Don’t let that be you. If you find yourself leading a life full of shoulds and obligations—someone else’s dream for you—take heart. Doing something you love for just a couple of hours a week can significantly improve your life. Like steering a ship slightly to the right, over time you’ll arrive at the destination YOU desire.
2. Chasing Security
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, security is “the state of being protected or safe from harm.” The problem with chasing security is that there is no such thing, and if you trade your soul for it, you pay a big price. I have a friend who’s buying a house with a woman he doesn’t love, who treats him badly, for “security’s sake.” Another friend is applying for work way beneath her potential to collect a steady paycheck, even though the last time she did so her job made her sick and it took her out of the job market for several months.
The truth is that fear of change and staying in our comfort zones stunts our growth. Each of us has a unique purpose in life. Most of us don’t realize it, though, because we’ve been pressured to conform to someone else’s idea of who we should be. Stretch yourself and take a risk if you want to find out what makes your heart sing.
3. Chasing Money
“Chase your passions and money will come. Chase money and you may never find your passions.” ~ Colin Wright
We all need to make ends meet, but beyond that, chasing after the green stuff doesn’t make us happier.
“Rachel” took my creativity workshop after she’d made a bundle working at Apple and felt absolutely empty. A buddhist priest friend of mine told me he gets most of his donations to build orphanages in third world countries from wealthy people who feel like their lives are meaningless otherwise.
Research by the Nobel laureate psychologist/economist Daniel Kahneman and Princeton economist Angus Deaton found that happiness maxes out around $75,000 in the United States. Additional studies reveal that people are happier when they spend their money on other people rather than only themselves.
Of course we all need money to live, but chasing money for money’s sake can take you off track from your true passions and leave you feeling hollow. Simplify your life, do what you love, and the money will follow.
4. Chasing Material Things
“Stop chasing what your mind wants and you’ll get what your soul needs.” ~ KushandWizdom
Many of us think we’ll be happy if we live in a big house, wear brand-named clothes, drive a new car, and stuff our closets full of shoes. But that’s simply chasing things to fill the hole in your sole (forgive the pun).
Research shows that we’re happier when we spend money on positive experiences—like vacations—rather than material things. So the next time you feel like redecorating your living room or upgrading your car, think about flying to France or taking a road trip instead.
5. Chasing Work
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” ~ Socrates
Americans put in the longest work hours and get the shortest paid vacation time in the developed world, including Japan. Those of us “lucky” enough to have jobs have added another day to our work week because we now check work emails and calls from home. It’s no wonder we try to stuff everything we can’t do at work into our off hours.
But the second regret of the dying is that they wished they didn’t work so hard. Even though it’s countercultural, research shows that taking breaks leads to greater productivity than putting in long hours. You come back refreshed and able to do more in less time when you give yourself a chance to recharge.
So instead of cramming more activities into an already too busy life to make up for lost time, try slowing down, meditating, doing yoga, taking walks, having deep talks with friends, keeping a journal, and being out in nature. It will make you happier and healthier too.
6. Chasing Outer Beauty
“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others. For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.” ~ Audrey Hepburn
Many women and men feel pressure to look good. We hit the gym, dye our hair, and even get corrective surgery. In 2012, 14.6 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the United States. Isabella Rossellini calls it “the new foot binding.” The problem is that outer attractiveness naturally fades with time. What we should be chasing after is the beauty that resides within.
My gym workout partner is in her mid-60s and the most beautiful woman I know. She eats well and takes good care of herself but she also focuses on championing people in need and making the world a better place. She absolutely glows.
Cindy Joseph created a cosmetics line that celebrates aging rather than fighting against it. Her opinion? “When a woman feels good in her skin, when she’s happy and joyful and finds her true purpose and passions, she shines from the inside out.” That goes for men, too.
7. Chasing Youth
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ~ C.S. Lewis
We live in a youth-obsessed society, so many of us panic when we look in the mirror and see droopy eyelids, crows-feet and gray hair staring back at us. Nothing is permanent and that’s okay. When we chase youth on the outside we often lose sight of the wisdom that comes with age. We learn from our mistakes, make better choices, and are more likely to be true to ourselves.
Rather than trying to discover the fountain of youth, channel your energy into following your heart. It’s never too late. Martin P. Levin reached his dream to go to law school at age 61, and still practices law in his 90’s. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, crippled with arthritis, continued to paint with a brush strapped to his hand. What would you do if you had the courage to find out what you’re capable of accomplishing, no matter your age? That’s where your true vitality lies.
8. Chasing Approval
“Always remember that you do not need to explain yourself or prove anything to anyone. If they cannot accept you for you – then it is time to move on.” ~ Cath B Akesson
Chasing people’s approval is a waste of time and effort; what we should be chasing is our own approval. The third regret of the dying is that they wish they’d had the courage to express their true feelings instead of stuffing their emotions down to keep peace with others.
There’s NOTHING wrong with you. Some folks love you just the way you are; some don’t. You don’t need to change a thing. The wonderful side effect of self-acceptance is that those little things you want to improve about yourself tend to right themselves effortlessly. Self-hate keeps you stuck. Self-acceptance heals.
9. Chasing Love
“I love my husband very much. I knew it was real true love because I felt like I could be myself around that person.” ~ Idina Menzel
When you chase love it often attracts people who don’t value you. Otherwise why would they make you work so hard? Worse, you may wind up with a narcissist who requires constant admiration but can’t return it. It’s exhausting to constantly fight for someone’s attention. You just end up getting hurt.
True love comes knocking at your door when you stop looking for it outside of yourself and focus on accepting yourself for who you are—warts and all—instead. What can you do to be more genuine and self-accepting? Maybe you could sign up for an improv class, or take up drawing, or join a hiking group. Following your heart increases your chances of meeting like-minded people. When you reveal rather than conceal who you really are, you give true love the opportunity to find you.
10. Chasing People
“Don’t chase people. Be yourself, do your own thing and work hard. The right people – the ones who really belong in your life – will come to you. And stay.” ~ Will Smith
If you have to work hard to keep an acquaintance or friend in your life, it’s probably best to let that person go. Not all relationships are healthy. Learn to tell the difference.
According to George Simon, author of In Sheep’s Clothing, beware of people who try to control you, stroke your ego to get what they want, tell lies, ignore you, make you feel guilty, put you down, play the victim, or cause you to doubt yourself. These energy vampires leave you feeling drained. If you take an honest assessment of your current friendships and family members, chances are you’ll find one or two there. Rather than chasing them to make the relationship work, distance yourself.
And bring your true friends closer. The fourth regret of the dying is that they were too busy to make time to see their friends much. A real friend is someone you can turn to for sympathy when you need it, confide in about most things, and be your true self around. You don’t need to chase them because they’re already there. Make it a priority to stay in touch.
11. Chasing The Latest Trend
“Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman
Consumer-based societies depend on us to buy stuff, so we’re forever lured into getting the latest gadget and wearing trendy fashions. Trouble is, if we’re always chasing the new rage, we can lose track of who we really are and what truly turns us on.
“Dan” took my creativity workshop because he was tired of being an attorney. He came to realize he really wanted to be a photographer. He took pictures at lunch and after work and eventually sold a piece at a show. Taking photos brought meaning and joy back into his life.
Be a free thinker and go for what really lights your fire. It can be listening to 60’s music, watching old Star Trek movies, writing, painting, taking photographs… If you do end up buying that new camera, just remember that it’s the experience of shooting photographs that enlivens you, not the camera itself.
12. Chasing Happiness
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” ~ Brene Brown
According to Tal Ben-Shahar PhD, author of Happier, chasing happiness by working hard today for the rewards that come tomorrow does not make people happy. Nor does engaging in momentary hedonistic pleasures without thought of the consequences. Happiness is a choice. To find it, do what brings you pleasure in the moment AND helps you reach meaningful goals in the future.
The fifth regret of people on their deathbed is that they wished they’d let themselves be happier. Instead they stayed stuck in old patterns and pretended to be content when they weren’t. Be honest with yourself and strategize a happy life by doing things you love every day that lead to a life that fits who you truly are. Count your blessings and follow your bliss.
13. Chasing What’s Possible
“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” ~ Audrey Hepburn
Many of us chase after what seems possible instead of what we’re really capable of doing because our aspirations are too limited.
“Maria” took my creativity workshop because she wanted to retire from the police and travel the world. She figured she’d write travel manuals to support herself, but was unenthusiastic about it. I got her to stick to her guns and investigate opportunities that used her true skills. She ended up getting a job with the UN training local police in Bosnia to adopt human rights procedures.
Don’t be too quick to mentally figure out how to follow your dreams. If the answer falls outside the range of what seems possible (in Maria’s case, working for the UN), the route you choose may actually hold you back from getting the best life you can have. Slow down. Every step you take provides another piece of the puzzle, until the big picture eventually snaps into focus.
14. Chasing The Path to Success
“If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.” ~ John D. Rockefeller
Years ago when I was a psychology professor, I felt deeply empty despite my success. I’d published in the best journals in my field and received teaching awards, but it wasn’t the right path for ME.
The truth was, I wanted to be a rock star. “Ridiculous,” a voice that sounded a lot like my mother’s screamed inside my head. For one, it would mean I had wasted four years at Princeton getting my PhD in psychology. For another, I was too old. How could I change now, wasn’t it too late?
I kept thinking about how happy my students were whenever I gave them permission to be their true selves. Within a year I left my solid teaching position to follow my dream. My songs have been on the charts, and I’ve led creativity workshops for 19 years and helped thousands of participants realize their dreams, too. But I had to make my own path. So do you.
Following someone else’s road to success is not going to get you anywhere. What trail would you blaze if you set your soul free?
In the Wizard of Oz Dorothy had it right when she declared, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” Just like Dorothy always had the power to go home, you’ve always had a unique gift to share with the world. Reawaken your buried dreams, honor what makes you different, and embrace the people who have your back, and you will create a life you love.
Featured photo credit: Ian Nicole Reambonanza via unsplash.com