Stop Seeking Happiness– Why We Need to Focus on Resilience Instead

We do what we think will make us blissful but so many of us are unhappier than ever before. The code to unlocking happiness and success isn’t the quest for it after all. Groundbreaking research shows that happiness is in fact much easier to attain if we stop focusing on it so much. Although this might sound counterintuitive, happiness shouldn’t be the end goal if you really want to be happy. Research has actually exposed several negative side effects of happiness, particularly that too much of the wrong type of happiness, experienced at an improper time, pursued in the wrong way, can be damaging. The antidote: undertake resilience instead.

Our frantic search for happiness is leading us astray primarily because we are fixated on the wrong things. We desperately try to capture good feelings for ourselves, which alienates us from others. As contagious as happiness can be if we express it, the process of attaining it that we’ve primarily been taught can be a very lonesome pursuit which further decreases happiness. Plus we overestimate how thrilled certain achievements are going to really make us. When we don’t feel those emotions we expected, we keep striving for more and more that similarly doesn’t produce the feelings we hope for, continuing a vicious cycle. In this way, a focus on happiness mostly serves to highlight our shortcomings. Lasting happiness requires building upon your strengths, persevering, and being gracious with yourself and others—it’s really not about personal achievements or experiencing fleeting positive thoughts and feelings.

21 Days to Resilience book cover

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The words “happiness” and “resilience” get thrown around often it seems. Because of this, we’ve tuned out. They have lost their powerful meaning. Overuse doesn’t make these concepts any less important though. In fact, they are more important than ever before in our fast-paced world. I’ve noticed people these days expect others to solve their problems and often blame society for their issues. In this age of instant gratification and quick results, people seem to get uncomfortable when they have to work hard and problem solve. They reject negative feelings like the plague. But that’s not going to make them any happier. In fact, it’s healthy—almost necessary—to sometimes not be happy in order to find lifelong well-being.

While negative feelings clearly don’t feel good, they are important tools for growth and learning. And while our environment definitely affects our lives, it is entirely up to us to have the strength to overcome whatever is thrown at us. That vital muscle, our ability to overcome and learn from our challenges—resilience—is often neglected. We need to become more resilient to ultimately be happy.

We’re still learning more about the complex trait of resilience every day. Recent research has begun to identify its environmental, neurological, and even possible genetic sources. Although there is much that we still don’t know about it, we do know that it’s not entirely genetic. While some people have an easier time turning trauma into triumphs, resilience is a skill we can all develop. It is not a fixed state of being. We can build it and continue to work on it just like we can train our brain to be more positive and optimistic. In fact, positive emotions play a large role in resilience. Research has shown that they help us rebound better from trauma and find opportunities for growth from stressful experiences.

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Being resilient does not mean that you won’t encounter problems or have difficulties overcoming a challenge in your life. The difference is that resilient people don’t let their adversity define them. At its core, resilience is about being capable and strong enough to persevere in adverse or stressful conditions—and to take away positive meaning from that experience.

Living with resilience is more than just “bouncing back;” it is about shifting our perceptions, changing our responses, and experiencing real growth. The only thing we have control over is that we have the ability to definitively and consciously change how we respond to what life throws at us at any given moment. We all endure challenges, big and small, which are meaningful opportunities for learning and building strength.

Highly resilient people seem to not only bounce back from hard times, but also grow and become stronger as a result—they experience posttraumatic growth. They found a way for their struggle to redefine their life and fill it with new meaning. This type of growth is the cornerstone of resilience.

Belief is incredibly powerful. When we believe in something, for right or wrong, it becomes our truth. Positive, goal-oriented beliefs—that you can achieve success, that you can be happy, that you can do what you set out to do, that you can bounce back from adversity—set the foundation for your life.

Remaining positive with whatever comes your way plays a large role in well-being. However, remaining positive is not a direct path to happiness. The problem today is that people are inundated with being told to “think positive,” so they’ve become afraid of the negative. They mistake happiness for only feeling happy thoughts and feelings, and they confuse resilience for never truly experiencing pain. That’s not what any of this is about. We can’t escape the daily grind. But we can use stress to our advantage; it can actually be motivating and adaptive if we react to it effectively.

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Our most trying moments are valuable teachers—as resilient people, we must expect to learn from them. While this foreknowledge won’t take away the pain of those moments or experiences, knowing in advance that we will come out of it stronger reduces some of the sting.

We all have the power to be our strongest, most resilient version of ourselves.


From 21 DAYS TO RESILIENCE: How to Transcend the Daily Grind, Deal with the Tough Stuff, and Discover Your Strongest Self by Zelana Montminy, Psy.D. Copyright ©2016 by Zelana Montminy, Psy.D., published by HarperElixir, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

{Image credit: Picjumbo}

About the Author

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Dr. Zelana Montminy is a positive psychologist and health and wellness contributor to a variety of broadcast, digital and print media. She frequently speaks at conferences and various academic, business, and non-profit institutions, and is a member of the American Psychological Association and is a consultant for the Institute for Applied Positive Research. Dr. Montminy holds Masters and Doctorate degrees in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Health and a focus in Positive Psychology, and has a Certification in Nutrition. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young children. She is the author of 21 DAYS TO RESILIENCE: How to Transcend the Daily Grind, Deal with the Tough Stuff, and Discover Your Strongest Self. 

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