The Key To Happiness? Stop Chasing It – The Hedonic Paradox

Juan M Fernandez

Juan M Fernandez

Life Coach for Athletes

Summary: Discover the key to true happiness through the concept of the Hedonic Paradox. Learn why chasing happiness can be counterproductive and elusive. Embrace a new approach to live a more fulfilling life, and gain insights on navigating challenges and finding happiness along the way. 5 Minute Read



The Hedonic Paradox


In the field of happiness, this is a puzzling dilemma. The concept refers to a strange phenomenon that many of us experience, yet fail to identify or recognize. The paradox suggests that the more we chase happiness, the more elusive it becomes.


In other words, it states that happiness should not be viewed as an end goal, but as a result of doing that which is meaningful to us along the way. It implies that, when we set happiness as our ultimate goal, we deviate our focus, preventing ourselves from enjoying the journey.


The Playfield of Happiness – A Lesson From Team Sports


In my former life as a professional athlete, I experienced this paradox firsthand. Sports, especially team sports, are in many ways a representation of life itself. They are filled with ups and downs, wins and losses, excitement and disappointments. Each practice and game, like every day of our lives, is different, presenting new challenges and opportunities.


In my pursuit of being the best I could be, I found myself chasing the happiness of standing on top of the mountain, the respect and recognition I thought would come with being the best and winning a championship. I put immense pressure on myself, expecting to excel in every game, in every practice, constantly focusing solely on the end goal.


In doing so, for the longest time, I lost sight of the joy of the game, the camaraderie of the team, and the opportunity for personal growth that comes with each challenge. I was so fixated on that end goal, from such a young age, that somewhere along the way I deviated from the path that got me there in the first place – my love for basketball itself.


The Pressure of Expectations and Disappointments


The pressure to achieve this illusion of happiness made me more prone to feeling disappointed. When we start comparing our reality with the ideal state we have envisioned, the gap between the two can lead to feelings of unhappiness. This does not mean you should lower your dreams and expectations, but being aware of the paradox can help us gain perspective and realize that, if we don’t enjoy the journey, what is the point of chasing that goal after all?


In the realm of sports, not every game can be won, not every performance can be your best, and understanding this meant a turning point for me. I cannot say I ever mastered this paradox, but becoming aware helped me, at times, shift my focus from solely winning to appreciating the process. If you can implement this mindset shift in your game and in your life, it can potentially make you a better player, and someone who lives a more joyful life as a consequence.


Changing the Game – A New Approach to Happiness


The key to dealing with the Hedonic Paradox is not to abandon the pursuit of happiness but to redefine it. It’s about finding happiness in the journey, not just the destination. It’s about setting realistic expectations and not putting undue pressure on ourselves.


Viktor Frankl said, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.”


In sports and in life, it’s essential to celebrate small victories, cherish the effort behind the struggle, and find joy in the process by being crystal clear about why we do what we do. What is your passion and your motivation for doing what you do? Shift your focus toward the answers you find about your journey, not your desired destination.


The Takeaway


The Hedonic Paradox teaches us that the pursuit of happiness can sometimes be a tricky road, particularly if we place happiness as our end goal. But remember, life, like sports, is not just about the championship title; it’s about the games you play, the people you meet, the lessons you learn, and the player (person) you become.


Take a moment to assess your pursuit. Are you chasing an illusion of happiness, or are you embracing the journey that shapes your unique story?


As you navigate through the game of life, remember that it’s not about being the best, but giving your best. It’s not about perfection, but about progress. Life isn’t merely a race to the finish line; it’s a journey to be embraced and, ideally, lived to the fullest.


This is your game, your life, your happiness. Play it well, not for the applause at the end, but for the love of it all, for the growth it brings, and for the joy it sparks in your heart.


Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”


Pick a journey that makes you come alive, and start traveling.

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