There aren’t many phrases in English more recognizable than “the pursuit of happiness.” But what could happen if we turned it around? That’s exactly what Chris Guillebeau does in his new book, The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life.
At just 36, Chris has already led an amazing life. A self-starting entrepreneur since age 19, he felt depressed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and decided to dedicate himself to something truly significant.
He began working on a medical ship off the coast of West Africa. That’s where he caught the travel bug. Since then he has visited not a dozen, not two dozen, but all 193 countries in the world. Now Chris works to share that spirit of adventure with others.
I met Chris this year when I spoke at World Domination Summit. We had spoken before by email and Twitter, but when I saw him at WDS I experienced his impact on people firsthand.
Chris’s secret power is bringing people together who want to pursue a vision bigger than themselves. It’s totally inspiring, and Chris’s new book takes all that inspiration and makes it accessible and actionable to a wide audience.
The Happiness of Pursuit is a roadmap for people who want to experience significance and joy in life. That might describe you—it definitely describes me.
In the book, Chris tells compelling stories about others and self-deprecating ones about himself. (Just wait till you read the one about the rental car in Italy.) The effect is not only encouraging, it’s also enabling because along the way Chris details several tactics for finding and pursuing a great quest.
Happiness in life usually comes by making meaningful progress toward significant goals. And those goals don’t have to be traveling to every known country, completing a four-year degree in twelve months, or running fifty marathons in under three hours each. Some of the best quests happen inside the four walls of our homes.
Here are five steps I’ve pulled from Chris’s book that can help us find the right adventure and see it through.
- Listen to your discontent. We usually think of dissatisfaction as a negative feeling, but in The Happiness of Pursuit Chris reframes it. “Properly examined,” he says, “feelings of unease can lead to a new life of purpose.”
Discontent is like an indicator light on the dashboard of our lives. If we’re paying attention, it can tell us when something is wrong. And that might be exactly what we need to redirect. But how?
- Add inspiration. As Chris says, discontent is not enough. Lots of people are unhappy. In fact, fewer than 20 percent of workers in America and Canada are satisfied with their work, according to one study.
The important thing, Chris says, is to combine our discontent with inspiration. That fresh sense of purpose can give us new direction. What starts your motor? What gets you fired up? Inspiration turns discontent into fuel for positive change.
And it’s got to be something we really believe in because the journey won’t always be fun, fast, or easy.
- Be brave. As we contemplate new paths, fear always rears its head. It’s inevitable. And it doesn’t matter.
“Embracing new things often requires us to embrace our fears,” Chris says, “however trivial they may seem. You deal with fear not by pretending it doesn’t exist, but by refusing to give it decision-making authority.”
Who’s in charge? I’ve experienced enough in life to know that nothing new, amazing, or meaningful happens when I stay huddled inside my comfort zone. Is stepping out risky? I’d be lying if I said no, but that’s where real adventure leads—and it’s totally worth it.
- Count the cost. What will be required to achieve your goal? Chris recommends that we list our goals and make estimates on the time and money and other costs required to achieve them. He calls this “deductive reason,” and we need to be smart about the costs.
But there’s often a direct correlation between how much satisfaction we gain to how much we invest. “[I]t is precisely the arduousness of the task that makes the accomplishment an epic one.” And as he says, effort can be its own reward if you love the work.
- Divide and conquer. Chris didn’t just launch into his world travel. He mapped it out first. He broke things down in to regions and figured out what was important for each. Nearly two hundred countries is a lot, but chunking them out gave him a place to start and a scope he could manage.
For me, the best thing about breaking goals down into a list of milestones is checking things off my list. Progress is a powerful motivator. As we face roadblocks and setbacks, this can help us pull through and make it to the end.
And what do we find at the end of our quests? If the adventure is truly meaningful, it will transform us. We’ll be more confident, mature, capable of seeing even bigger adventures, and empowered to pursue them.
This last point is important I think because, as Chris says near the end of The Happiness of Pursuit, “Quests do not always tie up well.” A quest might end better than we imagine or disastrously. Either way, the good news is that there’s always another adventure if we’re willing to pursue it.
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