The Happiness of Pursuit

Most of us have heard that old adage that says, “Success is in the journey, not the destination” or something to that effect. We have a lot of cliches in our culture. And cliches become cliche for a reason: because they’re usually true.

In the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers of the United States penned the famous words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These inalienable rights, as they are called, form the basis of much of the success literature we see today.

Everybody dreams of a great life. Everybody wants the freedom to live life on their own terms. And I can’t think of a single person I know who doesn’t want to be even happier than they already are.

But what I have found is that I am happiest when I am pursuing happiness, instead of having arrived at happiness—if that is even a thing.

When I was a kid, we watched a nature movie in science class. Maybe you’ve seen it too. The film is set in a wooded forest during winter and shows a Canadian lynx chasing down a snow hare. Through the deep snow they ran and moved and dodged. Over and over, back and forth, side to side. For what seemed like minutes, the big cat inched ever so closer to its quarry. The frantic bunny giving its all, using every last ounce of strength in its powerful hind legs to evade becoming the cat’s next meal.

It was an awesome spectacle. Nature at its most raw, most primal. The excitement level in the classroom was palpable. What a rush!

So how did it end? Spoiler alert: the rabbit eventually escapes with its life, but just barely. We cheered for the bunny and felt sorry for the poor, hungry lynx.

But here’s the strange part. When it was all over, I felt a twinge of disappointment. I realized the enjoyment did not come in knowing the snow hare was now safe. The fun came in observing the chase. It was the pursuit that was thrilling.

Did the rabbit win, technically? Yes. Did the cat fail? Yes, but perhaps for a few brief moments it, too, knew it was keenly alive.

The happiness found in pursuit can be a powerful force in our lives. It can be what drives writers to keep typing and artists to keep painting and athletes to keep training. It is what drives the millionaire to become a billionaire. Sure, it would be easy to simply write it off as greed or avarice, but maybe for that person it is more about playing the game than stockpiling the money.

It is in our DNA to quest, to seek, to explore. It is what makes humanity human. So the next time you’re feeling stuck or unmotivated or purposeless, find a dream to hunt. Be like the lynx and chase it down. You won’t always win; sometimes the rabbit gets away. And that’s okay.

Because like the lynx, you’ll know you’re alive.

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