Happiness is not a goal, but rather it’s a byproduct.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt.

This quote by Eleanor Roosevelt puts a lot of things in proper perspective, especially the popular movements for change driven by the mass media marketing machine, such as positive psychology. It is so easy to quickly over-embrace what seems to be the ultimate cure for all of life’s problems as a single, all-powerful idea, until it turns out to be a “yes, but… half truth” that is just needed temporarily to swing the pendulum back to the middle between the right and the left side of life. Now if history has only taught us the one lesson—that we don’t learn from history—it becomes the one lesson to finally learn.

Whereas we can easily make a case for self-growth of learning, growing and improving as being a primary goal that proves itself with the intrinsic rewards that it brings from actively engaging in the process, this is where it stops. Anything more and we would be allowing the finger pointing towards something to become the something itself, like when we talk about happiness and success and positive thinking. These large things are not goals in themselves, but rather the “byproducts’ that Eleanor Roosevelt refers to in the opening quote, or the finger that is pointing the way.

Success and happiness are what you get from doing certain things that bring the desired feelings and genuine sense of being successful and happy to you. In this sense they are the result of your actions and only the finger pointing towards the one goal worthy of being a true goal—self-growth of learning, growing and improving. This is the one goal that doesn’t have a secondary agenda. Things like money are only as good as what the things you buy with it bring to you.

When things like happiness, success, financial wealth, influence, power, physical wellness and even peace of mind become the solitary goal of our lives and primary obsession, we are looking way too far ahead. And, we are usually missing what we need to be doing right now to get in the best position to earn these cherished feelings. Then we understand the value of the saying, “Yard by yard life is hard, but inch by inch it is a cinch.”

Besides this, maybe the one thing far ahead that does deserve to be the only goal of life, is to get through the pearly gates to the possibility of eternity which lies ahead of this life. But here again, that magnificent “achievement” is probably just a byproduct and result of living a good life of engaging in things such as love, forgiveness, humility, responsible money management, inner peace and compassion for others.

A few decades ago, I helped professional “footie” players in Australia realize how to back off long range goals such as having a winning season and winning the Grand Final (American Superbowl equivalent) one by one until they got dab smack back into the now moment of what they needed to do to make the play of the moment in practice work best. And when each player focused closer to home in this way, the winning season and Grand Final came their way as a byproduct of doing all the “inches by inches” to get there.

If you are overwhelmed with all the 20,000 books on happiness and success and the millions of hits on these things on the Internet, join the crowd. I have three simple suggestions about humbling these lofty goals of happiness and success:

1. Although the goal of self-growth might be to make your real self into your ideal self, it is all a journey to enjoy and not a destination to be obsessed about. Like the Australian rules footie players did, back up from the much thought-about long range goal of being successful and happy to focus more on what you can actually do right now to feel a little less unhappy or that you are failing more than you would like.

2. Pause a moment and think carefully about what you are reading and what you really want out of life. Chances are, it may just be to experience a little success and happiness on your inch by inch growth journey to greater success and happiness. Enjoy the little moments of success and happiness you do have, remember them frequently and watch them grow, with a little patience and control over our common habit of instant need gratification.

2. Realize the truth that most of the elite success and happiness gurus (that we all admire and aspire towards) achieve overnight success gradually and in reality it took these folks far more effort and time to get where they are than most of us are willing to put forth. But again, take the time to enjoy the little gains along your own way to gradual overnight success and happiness.

Don’t confuse goals for byproducts. Go for the real thing.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the scenic mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing), The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press), You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence), The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree), and Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers), and Reality Repair Rx (Publish America) This article is an excerpt from an upcoming book Reality Repair. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or bcottringer@pssp.net