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Why "The Pursuit of Happiness" is all wrong

Updated: Jan 4

Fulfillment > Happiness - and how to use this at work

We're all raised with the idea that we should engage in "The Pursuit of Happiness" -

This noble pursuit where we continually chase and find happiness in order to live a good life.

What if we got it all wrong and happiness was just a symptom though? What if it was just an output, and there was and there was a deeper underlying cause that we've been overlooking?

Enter a new hypothesis, that happiness cannot be pursued and caught, it can only arrive on it's own and be experienced, as a brief state for a period of time.

Fulfillment, on the other hand can be pursued and does in fact lead to us experiencing those states of happiness that we so desire.

There is an important clue as to why in the definitions of the two words -

Happiness - The state of being happy. (Happy - Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.)

Fulfillment - The achievement of something desired, promised, or predicted.

Happiness is a state and 'The state of being happy' will not necessarily lead to future states of happiness. Fulfillment on the other hand will lead to future states of Happiness.

Consider what fills your bucket

Picture it this way - we all have a fulfillment bucket, and when we do things that fulfill us, we fill our fulfillment bucket.

When the fulfillment bucket fills up, it overflows and happiness overflows everywhere, soaking us in happiness.

If we manage to keep the bucket mostly full, it only takes a small amount of fulfilling to overflow the bucket and we'll experience happiness regularly.

Over time though, leaks can develop in the bucket and evaporation dries up some of that water in the fulfillment bucket and if we don't refill it, it will empty completely.

If the bucket does get empty, it can seem to take forever to refill, and we can become discouraged by how long it takes to refill it.

If we can keep the bucket mostly full though, by doing fulfilling work regularly, it's easy to experience a happiness overflow and you'll easily be motivated to keep filling the bucket.

You can see quite clearly just how important it is to keep the bucket mostly full and to keep continually filling the bucket.

Child pouring water into a bucket
This kid gets it

How to use this concept in your work

Most of us spend a large chunk of our lives, if not the majority of our waking hours at work, so it makes sense to focus in here.

If you've been struggling to find 'happiness', particularly at work, try asking yourself the following - For the most part, do you find your work fulfilling?

If you answered No, or are unsure

Understanding what fulfills you in life and doing it regularly helps you to maintain focus, drive and feel more consistently satisfied with the life that you’re living.

100% of your fulfillment doesn’t need to come from work, and sometimes almost 0% will come from work. When you don’t find your work fulfilling and there is nothing outside of work that fulfills you, you are more likely to find your work-life balance to be out of whack and work in particular to be more of a burden than anything else. There is hope though.

One of the perks of owning your own business is that you ideally have some flexibility around your work hours and commitments to work – I say ideally. By understanding and committing to activities that fulfill you outside of work, you’ll often find that you can ‘fill your bucket’ this way and bring a new found energy and enjoyment back into your work.

If it feels like this is lacking work and personal life, but you’re not sure what to do, look to your values and what you find to be most important in life and give to that cause.

For you it might be family, community, a charity, a sport or something else even. If you’re still struggling, look to the things you enjoyed as a child as a good start point, the games you used to play, the books you used to read and the subjects you use to most enjoy at school.

When we’re children we’re more likely to act a lot more freely, as we’re unencumbered by the expectations of the world.

Sometimes you will pursue interests and causes and they won’t turn out to be what you hoped, that’s fine, just note it and move on. Maybe it’s not the right time or maybe it just needs a little tweak. Maybe it’s something else altogether. No matter what though, you certainly won’t find what you truly enjoy and what fulfills you if you don’t try things.

If you answered Yes

Fantastic! Use this to your advantage.

How to use it personally:

If you can keep yourself fulfilled, motivation and enjoyment come as a bi-product. If you know what fulfills you, why not optimise the times that you perform these activities so that you can be energised and motivated at the best times?

How to use it for your team:

You know how important fulfillment is to you, can you help your team benefit from this insight as well?

Next time you have a one on one conversation, why not take the time to find out what fulfills them?

Often, there will be aspects of their daily job that would be more fulfilling to them and that could easily be added to their roles and responsibilities. By doing so, this will likely lead to long term retention and higher levels of engagement among the team.

In Review

  • Happiness is a temporary state that we experience from time to time

  • We can always focus on our inputs (fulfillment) that leads to desirable outputs (happiness)

  • If you work on this regularly, it's easy and rewarding

  • Optimise your workday by choosing when to do your most engaging and fulfilling work

  • Others, particularly your team members, will benefit from this same revelation


Thank you for taking the time to read and for investing in better thinking.

If you would like to discuss any of the concepts further you can do so by emailing or by clicking here to book a call.

If you enjoyed this article or found it worthwhile, please consider sharing it by clicking on the links below.

Until then, Onward & upward, Jake

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