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Are You Chasing Happiness Like a Rainbow?

True happiness is learning that it is a direction, not a destination.

Key points

  • Learn to live in the present.
  • Embrace life and have the courage to be.
  • Find a sense of purpose.

The psychologist Carl Rogers famously said that the good life is a direction, not a destination. Understanding what this means is probably the most important thing a person can do if they want to live a good life.

Rogers went on to say: "This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life. Yet the deeply exciting thing about human beings is that when the individual is inwardly free, he chooses as the good life this process of becoming."

This is a description of when people are at their best, living their life to their full potential, doing things that they find meaningful and purposeful, feeling pleasure and joy in their activities, and engaged in rewarding and intimate relationships. Each of us is seeking such a life, asking ourselves what our goals are, trying to find our purpose, and struggling with despair when the answers to our questions cannot be found. What we learn is that happiness is not a destination but a direction.

It is about living in the present, embracing life, and having purpose.

How often have we heard the adage that happiness is a direction, not a destination? I have heard it many times and spent a career studying happiness to know that it is true. Yet, I look back on my own life and I can see that for much of it I was living it as if what I was doing today was only valuable for what it would bring tomorrow. I am sure that is true for many people.

The idea that the good life is a process rather than an outcome though is not a new idea. Happiness isn’t something that happens to us, it is not something external to us that we find along the way; it is about how we engage with our existence, the stance we take towards life, and, as Carl Rogers wrote, the courage to be, to understand life as a process. Until we learn that, happiness will always be elusive. I think we have the wisdom inside ourselves to know this, and with the right questions, we can get more in tune with ourselves and our deeper wisdom of how a good life should be lived.

It is a mistake to live life with your thoughts always on the future, chasing happiness, but this does not mean that we ought to live solely in the present pursuing pleasure. Pleasure is an important part of life, but when it becomes the only goal of our lives the benefits quickly fade. If you like chocolate, you know how great the first few chunks are, but too much and you will tire of it and soon feel ill.

People want to be happy, but paradoxically, most of us seem to pursue just the opposite. It has been said that "it is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness." When we seek happiness as a destination, we forgo the opportunity to experience the journey itself. We often pursue a life of happiness as an end goal, doing things today in the belief that it will bring happiness tomorrow, but that is like seeking the end of a rainbow; it can’t be found. Deep down, we may know this already, but nonetheless, much time is spent chasing these rainbows.

Imagine yourself in your eighties, sitting in a rocking chair looking back on your life. What would that older you say to you right now?

This is an edited extract from my new book Think Like a Therapist: Six Life-Changing Insights for Leading a Good Life.


Joseph, S. (2022). Think Like A Therapist. Six Life-Changing Insights for Leading a Good Life. London. Piatkus/Little, Brown.

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