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How I Stopped Chasing Happiness and Started Enjoying My Imperfect Life

“I want to live my life without stress and worries. I don’t need to be rich or famous. I just want to be happy.” ~Unknown

Have you ever set a goal and then become obsessed with it, making it the center of your life and arranging everything else around it? Did you think that only after you achieved your goal would you be totally relaxed and happy?

I’ve done this many times before.

Throughout my life, I’ve measured my happiness by my achievements. I pushed to get good grades in school, then focused on going to a good college, then getting a high-paying job.

However, even after getting all of those things, I was not happy. After attaining them, they felt ordinary, not as extraordinary as I thought they were.

The feeling of achievement was not that awesome after all.

I blamed my achievements for my dissatisfaction—that they were not tremendous enough for me to feel happy. So I thought I had to do more. I found a new goal, and I fell into the trap again.

I always had something to pursue, and I could never feel happy until I achieved everything.

I abandoned other things in my life to pursue them. My excuses always were “I can’t rest right now. I am busy doing [x]. I will do that after I achieve [x]. I will be relaxed and enjoy my life only after [x].”

My [x] constantly changed from one thing to another. And I never let myself rest. I deferred my life to the future. Now was never a good time to enjoy life.

Even when I went out with my husband for a date night, I could never really enjoy my time.

The feeling of guilt was always there to haunt me, to blame me for ditching my work, for being relaxed and lazy. Only when I felt miserable and exhausted did that guilt fade away.

That was when I realized something was not right.

The Problem with Measuring Your Happiness by Your Achievements

In the next couple days, I attempted to stop thinking of how to achieve my goals and paid full attention to how I was feeling. I took time out for myself, just to think about my life.

And it was a painful realization that not only I did not enjoy my life, I missed out so many things in the process.

I Forgot the Ultimate Goal of My Life

Everyone wants to be happy, including me. My ultimate goal is to enjoy my life. But I constantly postponed my happiness while working toward other short-term goals.

I thought I was in charge of my life and my happiness, but I wasn’t. I let those short-term goals control of my life. As a result…

I separated myself from my loved ones.

In my vision of a happy life, I was always there with my family and for my family. But the hard truth was, I was not.

In fact, I turned them down when they showed concern about me. I felt like they didn’t understand my choices.

The whole reason I needed to achieve more was to be with them when they would be happy and proud of me. But that was not what they wanted. They wanted me, not my titles.

Whenever I achieved something, they were happy for seeing me happy, not for anything else.

A part of my happy ending was already with me, but I did not see it.

I hurt my own feelings.

As I was busy chasing the idea of my perfect life, measuring my worth by my achievements, I wasn’t fond of myself

When I did not meet my target, I felt unworthy and I beat myself up.

When I earned something, it wasn’t extraordinary enough to be proud of. I even beat myself up for not trying harder to receive something bigger.

I had a rough relationship with myself. I thought I was never good enough for my own love, or for anyone else’s.

It’s painful believing that you are unloved.

I damaged my health.

Because I was fixated on achieving my goals above all else, I ignored my body when she screamed for rest. I thought I only deserved to rest when I could no longer work, when all of my energy was gone.

If I rested before my energy ran out, I thought I was a loser. A loser would not achieve anything.

I worked my way to exhaustion just to earn myself some rest. I physically drained my immune system until just a simple cold would easily break me.

Learning to Be Happy with My Imperfect Life

We all have the tendency to compare ourselves with others. I grew up believing life is a race, and I tried to be the fastest horse.

Social media has made this worse. We see other successful people and we crave their achievements. We think if we were as successful as they are, as rich as they are, as talented as they are, we would be as happy as they are.

Only this isn’t the case.

The truth is that we are different people, we have different goals and desires, but those are not factors that determine our happiness.

Happiness is not the result of our effort. It cannot be measured by our accomplishments.

Happiness is the direction we choose and the way we live our lives. For some, happiness is to hear your mom’s voice on the phone every day. It may also be hearing all the funny things happened to your one-year-old niece. Or the look in your husband’s eyes when you spend quality time with him.

Happiness probably can be measured by laughter. Deep down, happiness is love and self-love. It’s realizing how beautiful your life actually is.

Here are few things I have done to discover my happiness.

Meditation

Meditation allows me to catch my breath, slow down, and look at my life with a totally different perspective.

I used to think I could never meditate because I could not sit still and not think of anything. But I started small with eight minutes a day, and I’ve surprised myself.

I finally learned that meditation is not about clearing your mind and thinking of nothing; it is about truly accepting who you are and not letting your wild thoughts control you. It helps me recognize and detach from my thoughts; to let go of all the chaos in my life.

Stay in the moment

After I started practicing meditation, I began to accept the moment more fully. It was not easy at first, as my mind was always wandering around, making up stories about my life. But as soon I surrendered to the present, I began to show up and truly live in the moment.

I no longer try to read a book while having lunch. I no longer think of my work while cooking or taking a shower. Instead, I try to taste the food in every single bite, to listen to different noises I make in the kitchen, to feel the warm water running over my body and let it wash off all of the stress and anxiety.

Needless to say, I have never felt more alive. I now recognize how beautiful and colorful my life is.

Start writing a gratitude journal

I end my day by writing a gratitude journal. It felt silly at first. But writing down all the beautiful things brightens my life and makes me appreciate them even more.

No matter how hard we try, we can never feel positive all the time. Life is brutal sometimes. Still, a gratitude journal helps me to let go of the negativities and feel grateful for the things I have.

Self-love affirmations

I start my day by telling myself how beautiful life is, and how much I love myself. Before I get out of my bed, I smile and tell myself, “Thank you for another wonderful day. I love you.”

When I put my feet on the floor, I thank myself and tell myself “I love you” again. I affirm this fifty times a day, and as a result, I’ve started to believe in myself.

It is eye-opening and life-changing to see how wonderful it is to have another day to live, to feel love and to enjoy life to the fullest.

“Today might not be perfect, but it’s a perfect day to feel happy.” ~Lori Deschene

Happiness is not something to pursue in the future. Happiness is available right now, right where you are. When we stop chasing the shadow of happiness, we begin to recognize that all the things we need to to be happy have been with us all along.

I still set goals to pursue, but I no longer arrange my life around them. I’ve stopped comparing myself with others. I’ve stopped trying to become a person whom I think will be happy someday. And I now realize what truly matters to me.

I put myself in the center and I surrender to my heart, my soul. I let my heart tell me who I really am. I see, hear, smell, and taste like I never have before.

I enjoy all the quality time I have with my husband, I enjoy calling my mom every night just to hear her voice. I enjoy sitting quietly and listen to what my soul has to say.

Even though life is up and down, I now know all the emotions are different colors in my happy-ever-after picture. I appreciate that I can still feel them.

And I know my life is not perfect, but today is a perfect time to feel happy.

About Mai Pham

Mai Pham believes we can create our own happiness. She helps overwhelmed and frustrated people to ditch their stress and enjoy their lives again. Grab her free actionable cheatsheet: 5 Simple Tips to Release Stress and Bring You Calm in Under 5 Minutes and join her free 7 Joyful Days Challenge email course.

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  • Brad

    I’m in shock right now! It’s as if you took all of my thoughts and feeling and wrote them down. Every. Single. Thing. you described is my life. In fact, I just told me therapist yesterday that I want to enjoy my life more. I am going to start putting these practices into place right now. Amazing! Thank you 🙂

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you Brad for your kind word. I am so happy that it resonates with you. Life is too short to spend time worrying about things we haven’t had. It is about the “now” 🙂

  • Elle Van

    This article is especially important for the holiday season! Focusing on the moments instead of the accomplishments. Thanks for the reminders. ?

  • Mai Pham

    You are very welcome Elle Van <3

  • Pieter

    Thanks for the reminder Mai
    “Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Isn’t there also a misconception about what happiness is? In my eyes, happiness isn’t about being on cloud nine the whole time, feeling cheerful every day or achieving all your dreams. It’s more a general feeling of contentment, even when life isn’t perfect, or enjoying simple pleasures.

    I sometimes feel that if people would have a more realistic definition of happiness than what’s portrayed in movies and on social media, they’d immediately be happier without living up to impossible standards

  • loved this Mai – especially “Happiness probably can be measured by laughter. Deep down, happiness is love and self-love. It’s realizing how beautiful your life actually is.”

  • Kevin Gawith

    Hi my name is Kevin

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you Laura <3

  • Mai Pham

    I can’t agree with you more. I loved the quote you used!

  • Mai Pham

    You are absolutely right. What the society and even our parents teach us about happiness is a misconception. They draw a picture and tell us to get “there”. No one ever told us that happiness is when you draw the picture of your own.

  • Mai Pham

    Hi Kevin. I hope you enjoyed my post.

  • Shanu

    I loved your post.Though there is an issue. Not with the article…. maybe me.
    While i was reading it..and i do read a lot of such stuff, a voice in the back of my mind constantly kept saying “Not So Easy!! Sounds good but…practically you can’t achive this state”

    Why is it? What is wrong? Why does all this sound too good to be true?

  • Mike Polachekster

    Such wise words. Strangely enough, some of the most successful people I know, including myself, are also the most unhappy. Great article! Time to take a step back.

  • Sharnam

    Please start with meditation. You will get the answers…

  • James Teitsworth

    How easy it is to implement changes like this vary from person to person. It was very hard for me to implement some of these things in my life consistently. It took a lot of focus and patience to change the default behaviors I had acquired through the years.

    I learned it’s not a state of being but a series of choices I have to keep making everyday. Only by consistently making the same choices does it become easier.

  • MontyJohnston

    Please include healing from old wounds and learning not to repeat old wounded patterns – that is, do therapy and addiction recovery. Otherwise egolessness just means avoiding ego rather than letting go of what keeps you from now.

  • randykirk

    Very well said. The Bible has been saying this for 6000 years, but folks keep going after the pleasure of the moment rather than the service of others. They want fairness instead of justice. They want what the want and they want it now.

  • samonet_az

    I agree, but it is also true that what I pursue in the form of goals in life is what makes my journey worthwhile. I cannot go on a journey without a destination in mind; however, it is when I refuse to let go of the outcome that I become dissatisfied because I get out of sync, refusing the change in plans. The destination will change as we proceed – such is life. Developing the ability to change along with the inevitable changes in the outlook is the only approach to life I have found that works for me. My life is becoming the process of constantly moving forward towards an ever-transforming future vision. This entails a constant letting go and opening up while also charting a course based on a current vision of the path forward.

  • Tatyana Nakihei

    I very much enjoyed your article. It was just what I needed to realize that I have the power to control my own happiness, not with materialistic things and achievements, but with love and appreciation for life and those around me that give me life. I often find myself comparing my life to others who have more than I do….most times it makes me second guess myself and I often think of ways in which I can have what they have…or what I can do to be like them even though I know that that’s not what I want for myself. I can’t say that I can completely relate to your article (I’m a procrastinator when it comes to work), but when you talk about feeling guilty when you spend time with your loved ones, when, in the back of your mind you know you have something that needs to be done…that, I can relate too. I appreciate your suggestions on ways in which you can control your happiness and I will definitely incorporate them into my life. I believe that self love is very important to insure a positive life. Once again, thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading more of your articles.

  • dcdave

    meh that is ton of justifying failure. way too much self love going on today’s selfie society anyway. but good luck nonetheless.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you Mike for your kind words. It’s all about perspective, don’t you agree?

  • Mai Pham

    I can’t agree with you more.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you 🙂

  • Mai Pham

    Love “healing from old wounds and learning not to repeat old wounded patterns”! Thank you for your wise words.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you for your kind word Randy.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you Samonet for your wisdom. And I understand your concern.

    It seems like people give you the advice to run away from life issues, troubles, ups and downs and real-world situations. “They are not in the same position as I am right now”, don’t you agree?

    But really, it’s not about escaping or running away from reality. Indeed, it means the opposite.

    It means staying engaged with life, all the ups and downs, keep trying and failing, keep changing and growing. The only difference is the non-judgment lens you use to see the world. You engage with life and accept everything in life.

    I still have a lot of problems with my life. But I don’t run away. I still do things I have to do, set goals to pursuit, but this time I choose to feel good and feel thankful for all the experience and experiments life has prepared for me.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you Tatyana for your kind words. I am so happy that it resonates with you. And I love your wisdom “self love is very important to insure a positive life”. I can’t agree with you more.

  • JustASoccerDad

    Interesting thoughts to consider; some of which I wholeheartedly agree, some not so much. For me, I was fortunate to be raised by others who not only were successful by society’s scale, but also had experienced life’s setbacks. (Grew up outside of Pittsburgh through the rust-belt depression). The greatest lesson learned was simply: Happiness is less about all of the great accomplishments, but how you react to failure and success. Humility, gratitude, hard work and preparation have served me well. My life if far from perfect – and that is OK. I have a family I love, a roof over my head and a job that I like [most days 🙂 ], and most importantly: my health; as to my failures – without them, I would appreciate what I do have. My outlook is simply: Any day I wake up is a great day.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you DcDave. However, I must say I disagree with you on “justifying failure”.

    You see, I never get any good from beating myself up in my old days. I hated myself for failing, I beat myself up, I set higher goals to make it up, I failed and hated myself even more. It was a never ending loop. And guess what? It hurts my productivity.

    Now, when I am aware of my feelings and I can feel good no matter what, I am more focus and productive. And I don’t see failure as failure. I consider them lessons.

    As a wise man said “I never fail. I either win or learn”.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you so much for your wisdom. I love your outlook and I cannot think of better thing to feel grateful for. “Any day I wake up is a great day”.

  • BeeBee

    I agree with allot of what you say, but remember you really need to write “I” as opposed to “We”. Everyone is an individual and people change. There are some thoughts there that do apply to me. So “We” in this article is not universal, if that ifs what you were trying to achieve.

  • Claudia Hernandez Babic

    Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not here yet, so all I have is today to be happy!!!

  • Joseph Guerra

    I have read a Lot about depression primarily because I am depressed, However I never knew how much until I woke up one day and said man I gotta get busy I haven’t really achieved that much in my life i spent a lot of my time worrying about my mom and and and my wife’s family as well supporting all I could even though I felt cheated, I think that is the crux of a lot of problems. we see everybody on TV who has more than us, there is even a stupid commercial where the guys says “O yeah Bro I’m all about more”, I think it’s a Geico commercial ” Anyway” I look back at my life an only look at the bad because being raised Catholic, I was supposed to be perfect RIGHT anyway my wife always reminds me of a story when I had my business I more or less put one of my driver’s kids through college I paid him well, he was my cousin Unfortunately sometimes we always forget to give credit to what we did do as opposed to what we didn’t do Peace and Love to you all (I’m from the woodstock generation

  • Kenn

    What’s the Big Deal About Happiness…..??
    It Won’t Bring You Money.

  • Mai Pham

    Love your word Claudia

  • Mai Pham

    Thanks BeeBee for your suggestion 🙂

  • Mai Pham

    No it won’t. But it brings you life, a life that worth living.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you Joseph for sharing your story. I hope my post somehow helps you a little bit. Peace and Love to you too.

  • Victoria Blackwell

    I have felt at my wits’ end, lately. I have always suffered from depression, but usually have been able to overcome it. There have been many bad things happen in my life the past couple of years, but reading this article made me realize that I am not alone. Everybody has rough times. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You never know when someone on the other end, reading your thoughts, might need to hear exactly what you are thinking. I guess it’s time to strap my boots back on and continue walking out the rest of my life with a deeper sense of satisfaction.

  • Kenn

    Hi, Mai:
    Actually, that little saying is something funny (I think) that I read some time ago. It’s not my life mantra. I happen to have a lot of money and am mostly giving it away. Wish Wifey and I had possessed same when raising kids. Didn’t.

    My True Favorite is the Butterfly Happiness Theme: Chasing vs. Sitting. And my brief experiences with happiness seem to indicate that it is (a) rare, (b) unexpected, (c) random, (d) not manufacturable, (e) ephemeral, and (f) of very short duration.

    I sincerely respect your work.

    Ken

  • Mai Pham

    Hi Ken

    Thank you for sharing your story. And that was so generous of you to give most of your money away.

    I love your theme on happiness: Chasing vs Sitting. It’s true that once we stop chasing, it comes to us.

    I guess each individual has different definition and experience with happiness. I personally don’t think if I am so joyful and lucky and living on the cloud all the time then I would be happy.

    For me, happiness means much simpler than that.

    Everyday I wake up, I feel happy. I really do. Because I will get to see my loved ones, spend time on earth and pursue what I am passionate about.

    It doesn’t mean that my loved ones are always sweet and understanding all the time. I still have argument and conflict with them. But it cannot stop me from feeling grateful for them.

    I hope you will have more experience with happiness Ken.

    All the best.

  • Kenn

    Got your msg.
    Made Me……………Happeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you Victoria for sharing your thoughts too. And I believe you are brave and you are doing great so keep going.

  • Agreed. And what’s more, happiness is not a destination, it’s an aspect of the entire journey. Thanks for bringing up an important topic Mai!

  • Teri D.

    I think that happiness is a general feeling of contentment. Sometimes we are sad or angry or tired. My problem has always been about self acceptance. I compare myself to others and come up short, that I’m “not good enough”. I have made tremendous progress, but, as we all are, I am a “work in process”. I live more in the moment than I ever have, but I’m not quite fully there yet. Life does feel better, though, when I live in the moment, feel gratitude, and just feel my emotions, knowing that everything is temporary.

  • AtlanticRhythm

    Thank you for such a wonderful reminder of the true essence of what it means to live life to its fullest. As a medical student, the last four years of my life have been defined by due-dates, tasks, and competitions that are exhausting and sometimes de-humanizing. There is no doubt that the study of medicine needs to be rigorous and requires diligent focus, but it is also incredibly draining and I’ve forgotten what it means to be truly happy without achieving something through school.

    My peers and I are currently standing at a pivotal time of our studies, where our accomplishments will be examined and weighed towards the next step of our training as a resident. No matter how much preparation we have put towards this process, insecurities and doubts wash up like waves in an ocean over and over again… with us bobbing up and down in its rhythm, hoping that the horizon of happiness is near our grasp.

    Your article triggered something inside me. I don’t know how, but I am determined to find a way to bring ‘me’ back. So thank you, for posting this at such a critical time. I’ll be sharing this with my peers and hope that, maybe today, tomorrow, or in the next few days, that we can all find a way to be kinder to ourselves.

  • Regina

    I like that you use “we” because “we” are all humans that can relate on some level. I like “we” because it feels like there is always and too much of “I, I, I”. “We” feels like there is something in common in all of us, deep down. When I write, I often use “we” because of what I shared above.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you Regina for your kind words. That’s also the reason why I used “we”. But I also appreciated BeeBee for her suggestion. We are unique and have different opinions. Doesn’t mean one of us is wrong. Do you agree?

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you Teri for sharing your thought. Yes we are all “work in progress” and there is nothing wrong about it. It’s beautiful knowing that life has so much to offer us and we are willing to receive it.
    I loved your thought “everything is temporary”. It reminds me to be grateful for every single moment.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you for your kind words and insightful thoughts. I am so happy that my article resonates with you and helps you a little bit. I am excited knowing that you will find a way to bring “you” back and treat yourself nicer.

  • Regina

    Absolutely! There is room for all of our thoughts and ideas to co-exist. It makes our experiences interesting and thought provoking. Thank you for your affirming article.

  • Mai Pham

    Thank you too for agreeing with me Regina.

  • Skky

    thank you for this!

  • Mai Pham

    You are very welcome !

  • Thank you for such a wonderful reminder !

  • JiaEn Leong

    way to go girl! i need to learn more from you! 🙂 #theinnermejiaen