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Happily never after: My life seems perfect, am I just ungrateful?

 "Am I just ungrateful, or somehow missing the whole point of life?" (Shutterstock)

Hi Chris,

I am a pretty driven person, and as a result, I am successful. I have a good job, plenty of money, a nice house, and a car. I also have a lovely family and lots of friends. But I am unhappy.

How is that even possible? Am I just ungrateful, or somehow missing the whole point of life? Or is happiness an unobtainable illusion?

Unobtainable Happiness


Hi, Unobtainable Happiness!

It is understandable when someone’s unhappy due to poverty, an illness, or bereavement. But when you have everything you need, how can you not be happy? Sadly, it is perfectly possible. Just look at Wikipedia’s long list of celebrity suicides, for example.

It is notable that you can be happy and unhappy at the same time. Happy about a new job, and scared you will fail. Having enough is never enough, so we endlessly strive for more.

However, some things are worth striving for, like good relationships or mastering a skill. These ‘intrinsic’ goals are worthwhile in themselves and bring great satisfaction. Pursuing ‘extrinsic’ goals, such as fame, wealth or pleasure rarely brings fulfillment.

Think about fame. It is addictive, so while celebrities often deeply resent the loss of privacy that their fame brings, they still won’t give it up. Actually, almost everyone secretly wants to be famous, which is why we post stuff online about ourselves - information and pictures that make us look good.

So you spend half your time pretending you are better than you are, and envying people who seem better than you. Not a good recipe for happiness.

And what about wealth? Money is necessary, of course, but as an end, in itself, it can bring misery. People who say wealth’s their top priority suffer more anxiety, depression, and illness.

What about pleasure, especially sex? We are driven to want lots of partners, but both men and women are actually happiest with just one.

We are driven to strive for fame, money, and sex because that increases our chances of passing on our DNA. But that is just a never-ending treadmill, and so we are never satisfied.

So is there any way to be truly happy? Yes, there is. It is to choose to be content with whatever you have, and focus on a few intrinsic goals: good relationships, work, or a skill that you love.

Easier said than done. It takes willpower to overcome those drives to seek admiration, wealth, and physical pleasure. But once you do, you will be far happier.

All the best,


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