The Happiness of Pursuit

"There is a lot of distraction for people, so you might not ever find the real you."

- Bob Dylan, as quoted in The Happiness of Pursuit, page 47

Are you currently on a quest? You know – a big, audacious journey to achieve what seems like an impossible feat? Surprisingly all around the world there are countless people undertaking amazing quests. Quests that are physical in nature, quests that push the boundaries of a personal group, quests that build community and so on. In his latest book, The Happiness of Pursuit, Chris Guillebeau explores why people undertake quests and the value that they add to their lives.

Guillebeau defines a quest as an adventure driven by a big idea that includes a willingness to take action and meet a deadline. Sometimes they start off as small life experiments that eventually evolve into a bigger quest. Other times they are born out of childhood dreams. But the common thread of all of the quests that Guillebeau documents in The Happiness of Pursuit is all of the people continue their quests because of the richness and meaning that it brings to their lives.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The Pursuit = Long-Term Happiness

"If you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t matter that it’s challenging. You can keep going for a long time as long as you’re motivated."
- The Happiness of Pursuit, page 163

Every quest is personal and unique in nature. Generally speaking though, each quest that Guillebeau shares in The Happiness of Pursuit took many months or several years to complete. Guillebeau’s own quest of visiting every country in the world took him several years to complete, though he set the goal of completing it by the time he was 35. But what emerges from the many anecdotes in the book is that the process (or pursuit) is what ultimately makes people happy.

Guillebeau also talks about this as a “love of the craft.” A great example of this is Seth Godin’s relentless dedication to daily writing with no exceptions, in addition to publishing at least a book per year. He shared some additional examples of other prolific writers and bloggers, but what I appreciated most about his observations about them and other questers is this – “Effort can be its own reward if you let it.” In our overly stimulated, over complicated lives, it’s comforting to think that just effort can be enough.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Know What Your Goal Requires

"If you want to prioritize adventure, something’s got to give."
- The Happiness of Pursuit, page 100

Just about every book on productivity and goal setting will tell you that in order to maximize your chances of success, you need to understand exactly what your goal requires. Guillebeau applies this same framework to the concept of a quest. In this case he suggests mapping out the following:

  • Goal – What is the clear, specific goal you are trying to reach?
  • Time – What is your deadline for achieving the goal?
  • Money – How much money will be required for you to achieve the goal?
  • Other Costs – What else is required for this goal?
  • Unknown – Questions, concerns and uncertainties about achieving the goal.

Since quests are long-term undertakings that require a substantial commitment, Guillebeau recommends small, incremental changes as a part of the adjustment process.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

When It’s Over, There’s Still More

"When you’ve given everything you have in pursuit of something great, it’s hard to toss off a few quick sentences on 'what it’s like.'"
- The Happiness of Pursuit, page 245

From my personal experience of achieving big goals, there can be this odd lull that follows. Sometimes it can feel anti-climactic or it can feel like a case of the blues. For especially big quests like walking across the US or extensively travelling, returning the “regular life” can also be a tough transition. So how can we manage this?

Guillebeau suggests that even when a quest is over, there’s always more to be had. We will find new quests. We can revel in our past ones. We can continue to find meaning in our lives through what we have achieved. In particular, we can focus on the stories that emerged from the quest. Guillebeau talks about his experiences of being interviewed about visiting 193 countries and while it can be a difficult experience to summarize he can tell stories, which generally tend to be more meaningful.

The parting words about memorializing, but not idolizing what we have accomplished were very moving. I think so often when we have achieved something great, it can be easy to live in the past and long for more times like that. Instead, it’s best to keep our momentum, remember the stories and go forth to our next quest.

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Vanessa Chase

ABOUT Vanessa Chase

I am a fundraising strategist and copywriter, and run the non-profit resource website, Philanthropy For All. Through my work, my goal is to help passionate non-profit folks better articulate their non-profit’s impact and work is a way that translates to engaged philanthropic communities...
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