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Happiness is Not a Destination: How to Enjoy the Journey

Enjoy the Journey

“Happiness is a direction, not a place.” ~Sydney J Harris

Being happy is for most of us one of the key aims in life. But where we often go wrong is in figuring out which path to take to achieve that happiness.

My own path has been a somewhat unconventional one. In my last year at college, most of my peers were busy applying for full-time jobs with large companies, but I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do. 

I wanted to see the world, which (long before gap years became so common) was met with disapproval by many. But excited, and somewhat scared, I set off alone on my travels.

I didn’t return for good until over seven years later, traveling around the world twice over, working as an English teacher in Istanbul and Barcelona, as a fruit picker on a kibbutz in Israel, in a ski resort, on a campsite in France, and in a fairground in Australia.

I drove across the US, rode the Trans-Siberian railway across Asia, and took precarious bus journeys through the Himalayas and the Andes.

It was a fantastically exciting time and left me with some amazing memories that will last forever. I knew that by doing this I’d probably be sacrificing any chance of reaching the upper echelons of the corporate tree, but that didn’t hold any appeal to me anyway.

Of more concern was the pressure I felt from family, friends, and society to settle down and find a “proper” job. But I’m really glad that I resisted that pressure and didn’t stop traveling and working abroad until I’d seen and experienced all that I wanted to.

I felt that there was plenty of time to have a conventional job after my traveling days were over, and this has proved correct.

The traveling taught me so much about myself, and life, and made me think about what I wanted from this short time on earth. I realized that I wanted to acquire experiences rather than money, and in my subsequent career that is what I have done.

I’ve done a variety of jobs: I’ve been a musician, graphic designer, novelist, and journalist. Much of the time, these have been precarious freelance jobs and not well paid, but they’ve all been fantastically interesting and given me a wealth of life experience.

I always wanted to have no regrets with the way I spent my life, and so far I haven’t. I know that if I’d spent my whole life trying to climb the corporate ladder I wouldn’t have been happy and would now have been lamenting what I hadn’t done in my life.

I’ve always found it really important to enjoy each step of the journey that I’ve been on and not just hoping to be happier at some point later in my life.

The path I’ve chosen may not be for everyone, but it is an example of the importance of choosing your own path in life, and ignoring the pressure from family, friends, and society. 

I’ve seen how some people are pressured into certain jobs, often because they are considered prestigious, but hate the path they have chosen. Others may be pushed to get further up the career ladder, but then find out they hate the managerial responsibility that this generally brings.

People also often think that when they have more material goods or money they will be happier. But while it may be hard to be happy in the western world with no money (although some people achieve it) making lots of money and buying lots of things may not necessarily make you content.

Buying a new car or yacht is often only a short-term happiness boost and it seems that after a while, each upgrade to the car, house, or yacht gives less and less extra happiness.

Surveys have shown again and again that once people reach a certain wage—around the average wage in western countries—happiness levels do not increase much.

With relationships, it’s also important to find the right path for ourselves, and to be as sure as we can that we have chosen the right partner. And when we’ve hopefully found them, it’s so important to enjoy each moment of that relationship, not always be looking to the future.

We might think that having children will make us happy, but then when we have them we realize all the responsibilities and difficulties that brings, and may look back on our days without children with fondness. Or if we have young children we might wish they were older, but then they become teenagers!

The common pattern in all this is choosing the right road for the type of person we are and finding happiness at as many places along that route as we can.

So it’s important to look at all the good things in our lives and to enjoy them to the full right now. That is much more likely to bring happiness than waiting for it to appear around the corner.

Photo by woodleywonderworks

Avatar of Alex Lloyd

About Alex Lloyd

Alex is a writer and life coach. He writes regularly for websites including The Happy Hut, and is the author of the book How to be Happy.

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  • http://www.selfication.com/ Patrik Edblad

    A great way to do this is to practice gratitude. Research has shown that writing down 3 new things that your grateful for every night for 21 days can actually rewire your brain to scan the world for the positive rather than the negative. How awesome is that?
    Thanks for sharing, Alex :)

  • kristen

    thank you so much for writing this article. i just watched a documentary called “happy” and this falls right into place with it. i am a traveler, and feeling the need to explain myself to friends and family about how this IS life… it just gets exhausting. i’ve come to realize to do what makes me happy and follow my heart. everything else will fall into place. i just want to hug this article. thank you!

  • Tim

    I enjoyed reading your article, Alex. All who wander are not lost. It is true. I lived in different places and had many jobs when I was younger too. I finally got married and have been a teacher for 15 years. I found the need to get up and experience more of the world when my job took a turn for the worse I’m writing this now from a family vacation in Europe, and I am making plans to find a more fulfilling teaching position. You are right, you have to enjoy the journey and the people you are with at the moment. It was inspiring to hear about the exciting things you have done in your lifetime.

  • spicytofu

    I thought your comment about the children were funny. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. You have a lot of courage and it inspires me!

  • http://www.leadingedgeadvocate.com/ Lea

    I’m glad you paved your own path. Some people think that the way to go is just following suit. True happiness is discovering yourself and what makes you content, then doing it!

    ~Lea

  • Ajay

    Great article. Just be happy from heart and mind in what you do is the secret to live a life….I love to travel too and learn a lot from your article. thanks

  • Brittany

    I love this. So simple, but just what I needed to hear. Thank you :)

  • http://BlissedOutBelle.com/ Shawna K: BlissedOutBelle.com

    Great inspiring post! You’re just like me, when you remark that you rather acquire experiences rather than money. As a society we are always urged to chase money and postpone happiness until you achieve it, and that’s just fraudulent thinking. Also, I can relate to you when it comes your parents pushing you to get a corporate job. I’m a freelancer, so recently my mother asked me, “When are you going to get a real job, with some benefits?” I just had to laugh at that one. There’s this whole idea of working your whole life, as if the money you receive will eventually buy possessions to make you happy. In my opinion, money doesn’t make a person rich, experiences do! We must all grasp this concept that it’s not the destination that bring us happiness and fulfillment, it’s the enjoyment of the journey that will.

  • spunkitydoo

    This is great!! I, too, have spent the intervening years since college traveling around and acquiring a vast wealth of not money, but incredible experiences. It’s nice to hear that you’re glad you did that – as, at 26, I’m definitely in a state of lots of doubt about it all. I am feeling the pressure rather hard to “settle down” and “get a career” and all that jazz. But I just want to do what I want to do – and find joy in that, right? Right. So thanks for this reminder, friend. =)

  • Deborah

    Great post. I have found that we really all have more to give to each other if our own cups are full. Being brave enough to take responsibility for your own happiness and seek the richness of different experiences is a great gift for the world.

  • RandyH

    Well-written and thought-provoking article, Alex! I was one of those people who was pushed to get further up the career ladder and then found out later that I hated the managerial responsibility that it brought. The bright side is that you can find the correct path in reverse if it happens that way for you. At 52, I’ve given up the stressful life, I do things I enjoy doing, live in the here and now and look back on the years of “proper jobs” as a learning experience and appreciate my new path all the more. Great post!

  • RandyH

    “have more to give to each other if our own cups are full”…beautiful thought, Deborah! Glad I scrolled down!

  • TheVermonter

    Dear Alex, I’m so glad I stumbled onto your article. I have a son, age 25, who received his Bachelor’s Degree a couple of years ago in Natural Resources. He has since been traveling – mostly in the US, but he did spend 9 months in Guatemala as well. I agree with you whole-heartedly about possessions and following our heart’s desire. My son will post pictures of where/how he lies his head down each night. The one’s of his hammock strung between the trees or in a sleeping bag in a national park are the ones that make me most envious, in such a great way. I’m so proud of the simple lifestyle he has chosen and I’m hoping some of it is exemplified in my lifestyle…I live a simple, non-materialistic, traditional life and very proud of it. I educate people in the industry of finances and help them realize their personal dreams and goals. Keep up the great work!!