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Chasing happiness is futile. Here’s what to do instead

Ozan Varol shares a simple principle that will ultimately lead you to happiness.

Chasing happiness is futile. Here’s what to do instead
[Photo: Hybrid/Unsplash]

There’s a whole industry dedicated to making people feel happy.

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Just follow the three principles of this, or the five secrets to that, and you’ll be happier.

Here’s the problem: In the most important moments of my life, I didn’t feel happy. I felt anxious about the path ahead. I didn’t feel good enough. I didn’t feel ready enough. I felt heavy—intimidated by a load that I was sure I couldn’t carry.

Yet, I still did the thing.

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Happiness came only after a wave of other emotions washed through me (and knocked me around a bunch).

If you pursue only happiness, you won’t ever leave your comfort zone. Because stepping outside your comfort zone is, by definition, uncomfortable. You’ll keep dragging yourself into the same predictable tomorrow by reliving yesterday.

Instead of chasing happiness, find and follow your north star. That’s the guiding light that determines all the choices you make in your life—what you reject and what you embrace. Your north star must be a principle that inspires you to act even if—and especially if—it generates pain in the short term.

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My north star is helping others reimagine the status quo. The career path I was previously on as a law professor was no longer moving the needle toward my north star, so, last year, I decided to quit. It was painful to leave a career I loved in order to pursue writing and speaking full time. I felt anxious giving up the security of tenure and the safety net of a guaranteed paycheck for life.

But as long as I kept one foot in academia, I would remain tethered to the path I had followed before. I couldn’t fully follow my north star because my academic commitments were depleting my limited supply of time and creative energy.

Following your north star will often take you off the path that you’ve followed in the past, as it did for me. There’ll always be a reason to keep coloring inside the lines you’ve drawn for yourself. It’ll be agonizing to leave behind what feels comfortable to pursue what’s uncomfortable—and to step into the unknown, where all things that never existed are created.

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But, as Zora Neale Hurston writes, “there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”

What will your story say?


Ozan Varol is a rocket scientist turned law professor and bestselling author. Click here to download a free copy of his eBook, The Contrarian Handbook: 8 Principles for Innovating Your Thinking. And download the Next Big Idea App to enjoy a “Book Bite” summary of his latest book, Think Like a Rocket Scientist.

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This article originally appeared in Next Big Idea Club magazine and is reprinted with permission.


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