happiness in the pursuit of burnout

Are you in the pursuit of burnout? No way! Why would anyone in their right mind want to pursue burnout? I hear you say. But are you?

In our pursuit of our constant endeavour to achieve more, become more in the name of ‘happiness’ are we actually pursuing that which we definitely want to avoid at all costs. Burnout.

So, what is happiness?

I’m exploring happiness within the context of burnout because for a long time (perhaps like many of you reading my articlethank-you for taking the time!), I too found myself in this predicament. Doing everything that would lead me feeling or being (more) happier. This also included getting more qualified, getting married, having a good career with a well-paid salary, a beautiful home, holidays to being recognised by my peers in my professional field. You see, I believed by setting these goals and achieving them would ultimately lead to my happiness. It did. For a while. As I was caught up in the I will be happier if…………………….’ trap.

You know the score, I will be happier if I get the promotion, secure that deal, lead that project, earn more money, have a bigger house, provide more for my family, have great holidays, buy that new car (add your own ideas here…………………………………..). But thanks to my burnout, I soon realised that these external factors weren’t making me ‘happier’ because ultimately, as Sonja Lyubormirsky (2007:19) puts it:

“One of the great ironies of our quest to become happier is that so many of us focus on changing the circumstances of our lives in the misguided hope that those changes will deliver happiness.”

Why is this? Well, let’s put happiness into perspective by looking at the Happiness Pie, based on Lyubomirsky’s research findings, which shows what determines happiness: 


what is happiness

To summarise briefly, 50% of the difference between two people’s happiness can be accounted for by their genetic make-up. This is a ‘set point’ each of us have which differs from person to person. This set point comes from our biological mother or father or both and is the “baseline or potential for happiness which we are bound to return, even after major setbacks or triumphs.” Secondly, 10% is explained by the variance in our situation or circumstances, or as in the ‘If I ……………….I will be happier’ described earlier. Finally, 40% in the difference between two people’s level of  happiness is based on ‘intentional activity.’ That is to say, what we intentionally do through our daily behaviour and habits.

What does this mean? The key to happiness doesn’t lie in changing our genetic make-up (which is impossible), nor in changing our circumstances (which we seemingly strive to do as I described above) but in our daily intentional activities. So, what are you pursuing in your endeavour to be happier?

Fact is, keeping up with the Jones’ leads to doing more but doesn’t necessarily lead to more happiness. As soon we actually accomplish what we’ve set out to do, we feel happier for a while but then, as research has shown, we return to the same state. This is referred to as ‘hedonic adaptation’ – which is undisputedly important in certain situations. However, within the context of burnout and doing, doing, doing to become happier and more successful externally this happiness doesn’t last. Why? Because we get used to the situation or circumstance – this is where happiness doesn’t last.

Just take a moment and reflect on where you are – and taking everything into account ask yourself whether or not you are truly happy (I want you to be, but are you?)

The fact is that feeling or being happier accounts for 40% of what we do in our daily lives, our habits, our routines – the simple non-materialistic joys of life. The activities, habits, routines that ensure our flame continues to burn brightly, those things which we often take for granted. It’s these things that nonetheless work in tandem and in alignment on our path to our external successes and goals. What things am I talking about? Well, again the research suggests that the happiest people:

  • Spend time with friends and family and take time to nurture loving relationships.
  • Express gratitude for the things they have in life.
  • Practise random acts of kindness, supporting others, collaborating with co-workers and giving a helping hand.
  • Imagine and visualise their life and future with optimism.
  • Live in the present moment and savour it.
  • Engage in physical activity.
  • Are committed to purposeful life goals.
  • In the face of adversity, have coping skills and strategies to deal with the downs with poise and strength.

Yes, go for those goals – but don’t make them a means to an end. Evaluate what you’re doing. Is it leading to happiness or burnout? It’s not to say we don’t accomplish and strive towards our external goals, but let’s do this in alignment with what really matters.

Happiness shouldn’t be stressful, and we often confuse these high levels of stress as being part and parcel of the road to happiness, when in fact it’s road that leads to burnout. How many of the above are you doing in your life? Isn’t it time to re-think how we’re pursuing happiness and why pursue it at all? Because as I found out, you don’t need to burnout to happiness before you become happier. It’s been there all the time.

Source: Lyubomirsky, S. (2007) The How of Happiness. A practical Guide to Getting the Life You Want. London. Piatkus.

1 Comment

  1. Alex P Plasky

    Wow a lot of great information here! Yes daily activities or habits are key!


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