Posted by: N.S. Palmer | February 9, 2013

Happiness is the Journey, Not the Destination

By N.S. Palmer

A recent article on reported that people’s happiness depends partly on the generation into which they were born.

It’s true that each generation has its own set of challenges. But a lot of our happiness comes from “attitude, attitude, attitude.”

Earlier generations expected life to be difficult. They expected to fight their way through it to become the people they wanted to be.

More recently, however, we have been taught the opposite: That life should be easy, that everything should be served to us on a silver platter, and that wishing will make it so. Those are the delusions behind the so-called “secret” of countless books on self-help and pop psychology.

But for the vast majority of us, it’s not true now and it has never been true.

Happiness comes from accepting life’s challenges. It comes from meeting those challenges to fight for what is important to us.

Whether we win or lose the fight does matter, but it matters less than the simple fact that we engage in the fight.

Earthly happiness is not an end point, but a by-product of the struggle. It is the journey, not the destination.

None of this is original with me, of course. It has been taught by many thinkers throughout the centuries. My late friend and mentor, Brand Blanshard, stated it with characteristic wit and eloquence in a letter he sent me many years ago:

It is important to happiness not to think too much about it. The person who continually asks himself if he is happy is apt to miss his end. For happiness is, as Aristotle thought, a byproduct of healthful and successful activity. Bertrand Russell, who wrote The Conquest of Happiness, remarked that scientists are generally happier than artists, since they are more commonly lost in objective tasks and not examining their own navels. What is important is to find what one can do best (generally also the line most useful to others), and then to do it with all one’s might. Happiness will come unsought. If one seeks it directly, one will be like the discontented, rich old ladies who haunt Miami hotels.

Live life with all your might: that’s what life is for. Happiness will take care of itself.

Copyright 2013 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL ( are included.


  1. Excellent perspective and right to the point. I’m with you on all of the intention-based happiness literature out there — happiness is available to us in each moment if we just busy ourselves in it.

    • Thanks, Jim! We all have challenges, reverses, and even failures in our lives. The important question is what we do in response. Navel-gazing isn’t completely useless in moderation — “know thyself” — but it’s no substitute for living life.

      That reminds me of another bit of wisdom from Prof. Blanshard. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Prof. Blanshard turned that around and said that “The un-lived life is not worth examining.” 🙂

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