The Secret to Happiness: Stop Caring

Our lives are inundated with practicality and productivity. We think that if there’s no purpose to something, there’s no point in doing it. In reality the best things in life have no purpose.

We sacrifice our time and our sanity doing what we don’t want to do, so at some future point we will create the freedom to do what we love.

We seek happiness in things. We seek happiness in the acceptance of others, in material possessions, in social status. We even search for happiness in some future-promised afterlife. We sabotage ourselves and our entire lives because we fail to understand a very simple but easily overlooked fact.

The Search for Happiness is the Single Greatest Cause of Misery

You can’t find something that’s already there. Happiness exists now. It’s not something you have to find. That’s like trying to find your breath.

It’s the grasping of the mind that causes unhappiness. If you’re not happy, it’s because your mind doesn’t allow you be happy. And the reason your mind doesn’t let you be happy, is because you’re stuck in the vicious cycle of productivity, judgment and purpose. That’s not to say productivity is bad, or that doing things that have a purpose is wrong. It’s basing the reason for your existence on them that causes so much anguish.

When we place our happiness solely in “getting” something, completing a certain number of tasks on our to-do list, or achieving a goal, we’re fooling ourselves. We’re like a rabbit with a carrot stick attached to our heads. We keep chasing the carrot, but we never get there. We never stop to think that it might be the chasing that’s causing the problem. We’re too distracted trying to find a better way to beat the game. As soon as we reach one level of success, we’re hurrying to upgrade our search and move on to the next level of the chase. We never stop to think that it’s not the failure to win the game that causes our grief, but the game itself.

We neglect to realize that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to stop participating in the problem. Sometimes the best way to to solve a problem is to just stop caring (see: not giving a damn).

Sometimes…

  • The best way to solve the problem of not having a lot of cool friends is to stop caring about having cool friends.
  • The smartest way to be happy with the place you live is to stop caring about living in a two story house with a pool, a fireplace, central air and satellite TV.
  • The simplest way to be content with yourself is not to achieve greatness and praise, but to accept yourself fully for who you are now.
  • The quickest route to happiness is to stop caring about finding happiness and to start being happiness.

By not caring, we immediately release ourselves of the grasping of the mind. But it’s not easy to stay in this mindset (the mind loves to grasp); it’s something we have to constantly cultivate.

It’s especially difficult when our society tends to place more value on things, than on experiences. We value what we do more than how we feel.

This is completely ridiculous when you think about it. Because the way you feel should be more important than anything else. Isn’t the purpose of everything you do to feel good? Isn’t the purpose of that new car, that promotion, or college degree to give you a feeling of accomplishment? Isn’t that supposed to make you happy?

The problem with this is we’re basing our happiness on temporary things. We’re deriving our joy from an achievement, or an attainment. This isn’t true happiness; it’s an addiction. We get a short burst of endorphins to our bloodstream from our new TV/television, or new iPhone, and then what happens? It disappears. It leaves us feeling empty and we begin looking for our next fix.

Our advertising and consumer culture doesn’t help this much. We are constantly bombarded with messages that we need this, or we need that. Incessantly, we hear: “Buy this and it will solve your problem!” If only we could solve that problem we may finally be happy. Wrong. It’s not the problems that are the problem. I mean, buying a more efficient vacuum or sowing on that button you’ve been meaning to for seven years is great. You may feel a sense of achievement for a few moments or days. But you’re still looking for happiness in a thing.

It’s the same with productivity. If only we could finish all of the things on our to-do list, could we be content. If only we could accomplish all of our goals, could we finally be gratified. This thinking is based on the illusion that you’ll reach a certain point where everything is done. You finally made it! There’s nothing left in your inbox, all your projects are complete and your lifelong goals are achieved! Now you can rest easy.

But this point never seems to come, does it? That’s because there will always be things to do. There will always be challenges, because everything in life is constantly changing. If you reached a point in your life where you had no more problems, no more struggles, no more worries, life would stop. The game would end and there would be no point left in playing.

So… what can we do about this?

We Need to Stop Caring

That doesn’t mean we stop trying to achieve our goals or striving for personal growth. It just means that we no longer base our happiness on fleeting, semi-permanent things.

There are obviously some situations where not caring may have serious negative consequences (see paying your rent). Excessive caring, however, is likely to make you miserable.

The reason caring too much can be detrimental to your health, is you’re so focused on the future. Your identity is too attached to outcomes. If something does, or doesn’t go your way, it will likely have an enduring effect on your mood for the rest of the day.

Instead, we should base our happiness on permanent things. Things that don’t change. Desires that don’t shift from moment to moment. We choose to find our happiness in living. In life itself. In fact, we don’t even need to “find” happiness. We can be happiness.

So stop searching. You can’t find something that’s already there.

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167 Comments on "The Secret to Happiness: Stop Caring"

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Alex
Guest

Nice article…i’m there!

Nathalie Lussier from Billionaire Woman
Guest

I like how you phrase it: being happiness. It’s all in our minds, isn’t it?

I liked this one a lot! :)

Ari Koinuma
Guest

Jonathan,

I agree with most of your points, but the main point is not quite sitting with me. I wholeheartedly agree that happiness is not “out there.” But it’s through accepting where you are that you start spending less time worrying about how where you are is wrong. You accept, and you have no need to care — I’m not sure if it works the other way around? It may just be me, of course.

ari

Julie
Guest

You are so right. Happiness is something we DECIDE.

Each moment of life asks us to make a choice, a choice of action, word, thought, emotion… Billions of choices are being made continually, around the world by billions of people, and every choice influences each of us, either immediately or through a ripple effect, and the art of living life with the least resistance is to understand this and flow with it.

The manner in which we greet every breath of every day determines our level of peace and happiness.

Michael Shanley
Guest

Whenever I find that my mind has wandered into a rut, I pull myself out with this knowledge. If necessary, I go down a list of anything I can think of and really prove that it’s just that damn monkey brain acting up:

“Would a new car give me any MORE bliss? No.”
“Would a cream soda really make me happier? No.”
“Would a raise stop sadness from returning? No.”

What are your thoughts on art?
What is the function of creating art?
Is art meaningless? Or worse, misdirection?
Does it cause more problems than good?

Bobby Rio
Guest

This the whole foundation of the Zen mentality… just be. If you’re always chasing happiness you get in the habit of always chasing… Most of us only experience fleeing happiness because we base it on achievements and possessions.

Glen Allsopp
Guest

Great post, i once came to a certain realisation and whilst It isn’t articulated very well, I hope you get the point:

“Nothing can make us as happy as we truly are within. Think of all the things we buy and achieve to feel happy anyway, it’s just an inner feeling we are experiencing. It’s not like a pill that is giving us ‘happiness’. Therefore we have the choice and the ability to be happy more often, if not always”

wmeyers
Guest

When I began reading this article I thought: “yeah, I already know this and I think I disagree”. Somewhere in the middle the truth of your words struck me, it’s absolutely true!

Thanks!

Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul
Guest

I think I would call “not caring” something else … non-attachment! But I completely agree with the essence of this article. Everything we need is right here, right now, in the present moment. Too bad that the mind doesn’t find this thought particularly entertaining, and pushes us back into striving!

Great article.

Blessings,
Andrea

Jonathan
Guest

It is because of our attachment to the negative meaning of the phrase “not caring” that we might want to use the phrase “not caring”. Let it go maybe. Just pondering here.

Ray Valentine
Guest

What a wonderful post. The more I simplify my life and concentrate on those things that are really important the happier I am.

I lost my wife to a sudden illness about a year and half ago. This kicked off a period of self examination and a general retooling of my life. Mostly I have found that things don’t satisfy me, the act of doing things with or for other people is where I derive my joy. Doing things is so much more important to me than having things.

Meghan
Guest

Great post, I came a across it via Brazen Careerist.
I’m ending my summer internship today, and am in a weird limbo/freaking out about trying to find the next place to get my achievement fix. At the same time, I’m doing my best to just be. Relax, enjoy where I am. Revel/reflect on my summer, and move forth with diligence, but not urgency. Trust that it will all come full circle the more I stop forcing things to happen. I think it all comes with being 22… :)

Cedric
Admin

@ Ray: I’m so glad that you were able to re-evaluate your life and what matters. That’s a really hard experience to go through.

@ Andrea: It’s a pain in the ass, isn’t it? Sigh.

Dereck Coatney
Guest

While on one hand I agree, on the other, if happiness is something we choose to accept in the present, then what is it that drives someone onward?

PeaceLoveJoyBliss
Guest

The evolutionary impulse will never give us peace.

Ever.

We are forever wired to seek and find.

However …

We can adopt a policy of hootless composure, a policy where we can be at peace with either having or not having a particular outcome.

We can find our flow somewhere between stopping and chasing.

Let us care, but let us also take care not to care too much.

Peace.

Colin
Guest
Happiness is always perspective. But what really makes you happy? At any moment you are choosing what to think and feel, but also how to act. Sometimes we must choose to think about long-term happiness instead of being happy in the moment. Sometimes we must do activities that aren’t very pleasing in the moment, but in the long-run bring us pleasing results. The trick is to keep those long-term results in the back of our mind while we live in the moment. That’s how goals are achieved and that’s another way we can continually escalate our level of joy as… Read more »
Effortless Abundance
Guest

This is an excellent post! Thanks for sharing. Not taking life so seriously, not caring too much (or even at all) about stuff is a great way to move effortlessly through the world and, in some rather counterintuitive way, you will probably end up being more successful and adding more value.

painfull back
Guest

I don’t care for this article much,
that makes me happy!

Monica Ricci
Guest

Love this. I have often told my clients, “Working more is not the answer. You could work 24 hours a day and there will always be more work to fill you time.” I believe some of the keys to happiness are just what you said. Stop chasing “IT” and just choose to BE it.

Excellent stuff, as usual! :)
~Monica

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[…] Illuminated Mind argues The Secret to Happiness over at his blog. I think it can also be argued that the secret to happiness is also the secret to […]

DiscoveredJoys
Guest

I’m approaching the end of research for a book I’m writing – a narrative tale of a person’s search for Wisdom/Happiness/Meaning. I’ve stumbled on this blog from a post on Zen Habits and it has crystalised the thoughts I have about happiness. Thank you so much.

Now all I have to do is write the actual words…

Cedric
Admin

@ Monica: I completely agree. I mean, we chase these things, material things, lifestyles, etc. But what we’re really trying to find is acceptance of ourselves. We think as soon as we start living based on a certain idea of a lifestyle that others will approve of, or as soon as we get enough stuff, we can finally accept our lives and be happy. That’s just ridiculous.

@ DiscoveredJoys: Sounds really interesting. Let me know when you’ve got a copy, I would love to check it out.

Chuck001
Guest
Can you believe that achieving things gives you happiness? Therefore constant achieving equals constant pleasure? Society does not only need peace loving individuals. Anything around you that gives you the opportunity to have a better standard of living, security, access to information, etc, was accomplished thanks to someone who decided it was good and started working on it (a chaser). You can thank him for that. This concept is valid as part of a complete whole, not as the only food to your brain and spirit. Like I said, “not caring” is applicable for many things, but if you have… Read more »
Leo
Guest

Yup I think you are hitting upon something here. I digg. not sure what I can add other than be happy. :-)

Laura
Guest
Once again, your post has struck a nerve with me. It’s really speaking to my heart and exactly what I need to hear at this moment. I struggle with this daily as my mind insists on sticking in the same rut of the “pursuit of happiness”. Naturally, no one around me gets it either. They don’t see that I am unhappy because they see that I have all the things that are “supposed” to make a person happy: good job, nice house, nice car, etc. Perhaps I need to realize that I CAN be happy. Right NOW. Nothing needs to… Read more »
Evan
Guest
I think I agree with what you are trying to say. I think you are not saying it quite clearly – or I am confused or I disagree. Focusing on more permanent things. I can’t think of a desire that doesn’t vary fairly rapidly: I’m hungry, I eat, no more hunger and so on. Focusing on the future also happens here and now. There are reasons for our doing it (some good – making sure we get the rent paid, some we may think not so good). I think we can be with our desires and that in this process… Read more »
Miss Attica
Guest

I like your approach. I will be reading your site again.

The Lonely Savage
Guest
Wonderful post! My online nickname – and the title of my blog – is based on this quote by David Hume: “The great end of all human industry, is the attainment of happiness. For this were arts invented, sciences cultivated, laws ordained, and societies modeled, by the most profound wisdom of patriots and legislators. Even the lonely savage, who lies exposed to the inclemency of the elements, and the fury of wild beasts, forgets not, for a moment, this grand object of his being.” Let me quote that first line again for effect; “The great end of all human industry,… Read more »
tigerbee
Guest

Very good post! It reminded me a lot of a book I just finished called “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner. If you have yet to read it I would recommend it, it deals with this subject in a very entertaining and eye opening way. I always need a reminder to stop caring. Thanks!

Jan Uetrecht
Guest

This is beautiful! I hope you don’t mind, but I am printing it out (with credits to you and your blog) to share. If this is bad please let me know. Thank you!!

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[…] Another round up of some of my favorite reads over the last couple of weeks. My top read has been The Secret to Happiness: Stop Caring […]

Seamus Anthony
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word. The easiest way to get rich is not to want anything.

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[…] The Secret To Happiness: Stop Caring […]

Gene
Guest
Hey, I’m new to your blog, though i’ve read some of your contributions to zenhabits. Anyway, i agree to your points. Many of us believe that happiness is attainable with having all those things we’ve dreamed of.We’ve gotten used to listing the thing we should have: The new car, the big house, or the job title. Yet, in truth we can be happy where we are. This post reminded me of a book i read called Dematerializing, how society is teaching its kids to attach who they are to what they have. Unknowingly, we are teaching them to be unhappy… Read more »
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[…] about claiming your story, your future, your passion, your now. It’s about re-engaging in the active process of living a fulfilled life and turning your back on the distracted, going-through-the-motions habits that defined your life […]

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[…] The Secret to Happiness: Stop Caring @ Illuminated Mind […]

Doug Rosbury
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“There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way”——Buddah

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[…] Stop Caring about All the Little Things. I got this from Illuminated Mind at a great time to hear (read) it. We all care too much about everything. I am not saying we should […]

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[…] for you 26Dec08 here’s a new year’s resolution for you – stop caring Filed under: links, stress […]

rummy
Guest

Great articles. I live a simply life and it’s only when I think about what I don’t have (and feel I should have) that I get down. Most of the time I’m happy for no particular reason. It’s just a choice. It’s always nice to see articles reinforcing what I already do and that provide additional tips. Thanks!

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[…] Drop disempowering beliefs, drop negativity. Cull and remove what’s not working for you. Stop caring so much, kill your (ego-driven) goals and give up. Here’s another great resource: How to […]

erin
Guest

I totally needed to read this. Thank you. I’m going to buy your book right now…

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[…] mind. Drop disempowering beliefs, drop negativity. Cull and remove what’s not working for you. Stop caring so much, kill your (ego-driven) goals and give up. Here’s another great resource: How to Organize […]

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[…] illumintedmind hat mir diese Idee begeisternd vor Augen geführt! zenhabits griff eben diesen Artikel auch in einem eigenen Beitrag auf. […]

Uncle B
Guest

Buddha said “too attached”
Christ said “not of this world”

Jordan
Guest

Great article there mate, you’ve written exactly what I’ve come to realise recently. Very good article.

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[…] Drop disempowering beliefs, drop negativity. Cull and remove what’s not working for you. Stop caring so much, kill your (ego-driven) goals and give up. Here’s another great resource: How to […]

Jyamato
Guest

You can be happy if you stop caring but eventually you start to feel as though purpose is missing from life.

corajudd
Guest

Happiness, per se, is overrated.

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[…] Drop disempowering beliefs, drop negativity. Cull and remove what’s not working for you. Stop caring so much, kill your (ego-driven) goals and give up. Here’s another great resource: How to […]

anon
Guest

thanks for the article

Krista
Guest

Wow…. I really needed to hear that; I’ve been depressed lately and now I’m beginning to understand why.

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