This is what you’re getting wrong about your pursuit of happiness

Most of our beliefs about how to pursue happiness are wrong.

This is what you’re getting wrong about your pursuit of happiness
[Photo: Dawid Zawiła/Unsplash]

If asked what we truly want in life, most of us would say we want to be happy. How to achieve that, however, isn’t so clear. The U.S. founding fathers may have identified the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right, but most of our beliefs about how to pursue happiness are wrong, says Alex Lickerman, coauthor of The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness.


“There’s been an explosion of ideas of how to pursue happiness since the 1990s with Martin Seligman’s positive psychology movement,” he says. “The research about what makes people happy isn’t wrong, but it works at the edges of what it means to be happy or unhappy. Everybody has some idea about what they need to be happy, yet we have a hard time creating happiness that endures. That’s because most of us are pursuing it in the wrong ways due to our core delusions.”

10 worlds

Pursuing happiness requires a deeper understanding about your life tendencies, says The Ten Worlds coauthor Ash ElDifrawi. In their book, he and Lickerman identify 10 core beliefs about happiness. While you can move in and out of the beliefs, most of us gravitate toward one of them as being our truth, and we live in that “world.” Nine are delusions, while one is the true source of happiness. See if you recognize yourself, or take the authors’ free assessment.

  1. Hell: The world of suffering. When trapped here we feel hopeless and helpless. The delusion in this world is that we’re powerless to end the suffering.
  2. Hunger: The world of desire. People who live in this world are restless and have persistent yearning. The delusion in this world is that you have to get what you want to be happy.
  3. Animality: The world of instinct. This world revolves around the present moment and satisfaction of our physical needs. The delusion is that happiness and pleasure are the same.
  4. Anger: The world of ego. In this world, we are driven by a need to always be viewed in a positive light, which often causes us to feel contemptuous and jealous of others. The delusion in this world is that happiness comes from being better than everyone else.
  5. Tranquility: The world of serenity. People who live in this world find comfort in the status quo, and shun variety and trying new things. The delusion is that to be happy we must avoid pain.
  6. Rapture: The world of joy. This world feels exhilarating and full, but it’s hedonistic. The delusion is that happiness is dependent on specific attachments, such as money or things.
  7. Learning: The world of mastery. In this world, you feel a relentless drive to learn and accomplish something that creates value and meaning. The delusion comes when you think happiness comes only through accomplishment.
  8. Realization: The world of self-improvement. Here, you’re obsessed with self-examination and personal growth, but it can lead to self-absorption. The delusion is that you think you need to grow to be happy.
  9. Compassion: The world of love. In this world, fulfillment comes from caring as much about the happiness of others as we do our own. While this sounds good, the delusion is that you believe in order to be happy, you must help others become happy, and that can foster resentment.
  10. Enlightenment: The world of awe. The 10th world is the true path to happiness. We remain in a continual state of wonder at the sublime order and beauty of the universe.

Understanding your world

We all have a world in which we spend the most time; it tends to be where most of our beliefs are the most stirred up, says ElDifrawi. “You can move from one to another, but you tend to have one that’s your resting point,” he says. “Bringing your belief into awareness can help you gain control of your life. It can help you understand the necessary first step to address why you believe what you do, and why those beliefs are erroneous.”

ElDifrawi says he lives in the world of tranquility. “I work hard at avoiding pain, and it can manifest itself where decisions can be paralyzing,” he says. “I create inner anxiety about making a wrong choice, thinking my happiness is jeopardized on one decision. Now that I understand, it helps to free me up. I know my happiness isn’t fleeting, which helps me make decisions in a more rational way.”

Lickerman says he lives in the world of learning. “Even though intellectually I know this type of happiness comes from building and creating value, the delusion is that I have to accomplish or experience something to be happy, and that’s temporary,” he says. “Each world has a ceiling to your happiness. Understanding it gives you power over it. You can shine a light and not be driven unconsciously.”


While Lickerman and ElDifrawi call the worlds “delusions,” they can make you happy. “For example, freeing yourself from pain will make you happy,” says Lickerman. “The delusions come when you expect the happiness they make to be permanent. Having perspective is helpful. In the 10th world, happiness is permanent.”

Many of us have inherent skepticism about enlightenment, but it isn’t mystical or religious, says Lickerman.

“If you actually allow yourself to hope, imagine, or strive for it, you can discover your most enlightened self,” he says. “Figure out what triggers emotion in you. Not everybody is made sad by the same things, or not in awe of the same experience or thoughts. What we’re arguing is a way of experiencing a more expansive self-environment, unleashing life conditions and incredibly transcendent joy. This is a better way to think about happiness: Examine your beliefs, and stir them up by understanding and taking control of them.”