The Happiness Priority (#723)

On September 1st, 1990, I taught my very first course to 15 people in a small classroom at the Camden College of English in Chalk Farm, London.  Nearly twenty years and tens of thousands of students later, I realize that while much of what I had to say at the time was positive and useful, if I could go back and do it again today, there are only two things I would build my message around:

1. Happiness is your nature.  It is not the fruit of something you do; it is the essence of who you are.

2. Discovering your innate happiness and well-being is the key to creating what you really want in the world around you.

Here’s how I wrote about it in You Can Have What You Want:


Most people’s goals in life are made up of the things they believe will ‘make’ them happy. But as one of my business partners once said to me, ‘If the bottom line is so important, why is at the bottom?’In other words, if what we really want is happiness, why don’t we start there?

Having now asked this question of thousands of people, the answers generally come down to one of what I consider to be the greatest myth in Western civilization…

I’ll be happy when I get what I want.
This idea has been with us for thousands of years and is endemic throughout all mythology, ancient and modern – that when you battle with a dragon and win, you get the princess and you live happily ever after. Or if you are the princess, you just need to be patient long enough and someday your prince will come and then you’ll live happily ever after.

In fact, people are often willing to endure great hardship on the way to success because they just know there’s a pot of gold at the end of their rainbow – and they plan on using that pot of gold to buy the feelings of happiness and fulfillment that they really want.

To give yourself a sense of how this myth might be active in your own life, think about three or four ways you could finish this sentence:

I’ll be happy when…

    • I’ll be happy when I’ve got enough money.
    • I’ll be happy when I’m in a loving relationship.
    • I’ll be happy when I get a better job.
    • I’ll be happy when my boss/co-worker/friend stops being such a jerk.

Whatever you’re putting between you and being happy in this very moment is a by-product of the myth of happiness: the idea that when you finally sort out your outer life, your inner life will take care of itself.

But the truth beyond the myth is simple yet profound:
If you’re doing things in order to be happy,
you’re doing them in the wrong order!

When you make happiness your number one priority and allow yourself to follow your ‘happy wanting’, success is not only more likely, attaining it is much more fun.

As Albert Schweitzer said:

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Does this mean you need to put your life on hold while you go looking for happiness?

Absolutely not.  In fact, it’s in the midst of the noise of your life that you’re most likely to discover your own inner quiet.  And isn’t it nice to know that no matter how crazy things seem right now, you’re only ever one thought away from peace?

Have fun, learn heaps, and remember:

Happiness leads to success a heck of a lot more often
than success leads to happiness!

With love,

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