Why is “Do Whatever Makes You Happy” Bad Advice?

My opinion on how being truly happy means avoiding the advice of

Edited by Jake Williams

My opinion on how being truly happy means avoiding the advice of “do whatever makes you happy”

Jake Williams, Journalist

The title is obviously extremely controversial, and likely goes against a lot of what you have been told from a very early age. A lot of people in your life probably told you that you should do “whatever makes you happy”. For a multitude of reasons, I believe that advice is quite short sighted. Of course everyone wants to be happy and should be happy, so it may be perplexing to hear that I think that phrase is foolish. My issue is not with people doing what makes them happy, but rather what they are doing does not actually make them happy or will not make them happy in the long run.

Simply put, oftentimes what people find happy in a particular moment, they will regret later. We have impulses and urges that tell us an action sounds like a great or fun thing to do at the time, but usually is a bad idea.

For example, the idea of  smoking marijuana or drinking a large amount of alcohol with your friends could sound like a fun thing to do at the time, and could make you very happy for a night or so. However, this is lifestyle choice can be very destructive if you do it on a regular basis, despite it making you happy for a brief while. All of this could lead to an addiction and you could develop a psychological dependency on these substances, which have been known to lead to “lung or heart disease, stroke, cancer, or mental health conditions.” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Those symptoms are the worst that could happen to you if you accidentally get addicted to something, but the best that could happen to you is that you could have fun for a night and have short bursts of dopamine when you engage in your addiction, which quickly fade afterwards. It simply is not a good trade-off.

The logical conclusion would be then to not engage in these types of activities, as a way of looking out for your long term personal well-being, but those who follow the “Do whatever makes you feel happy” mantra to a tee would disagree. They would tell you that you should “do what you want” or “to live in the moment because you only get one life”. To me, this concept is completely wrong and you shouldn’t tell that to someone, especially at such a young age.

Now, I am sure that they would protest my claim earlier, saying they don’t want people to get addicted to anything, but rather that they just want people to have fun, not feel pressured, and to enjoy their life, and that is probably an accurate statement. I don’t believe they have bad intentions. However, the people who live by this philosophy are not likely to question your actions even when they should be. If I care about someone, the last thing I would do is be apathetic about the decisions they make, especially if they are likely to lead their personal destruction. The last thing I care about is coming off as “too judgmental.”

That is my biggest problem with the phrase “Do whatever makes you happy”. Life is not that simple, and what makes you happy isn’t always best for you. Personally, I would love to just sit around all day and play my Xbox and read about interesting concepts, but I know that I can’t have a good long term future if I were to simply do “whatever makes me happy”. Famous philosopher Aristotle is quoted with saying, “Happiness is not pleasure, nor is it virtue. It is the exercise of virtue. Happiness cannot be achieved until the end of one’s life. Hence it is a goal and not a temporary state”.

Sometimes you have to do things you don’t particularly enjoy doing if it helps you grow as a person or helps your future prospects. I certainly don’t enjoy doing homework assignments, but I still do them, spending hours on them at times, so that I can go to college. After that, I will do the exact same thing in college so that I can get a job. Then I will go to my job to provide for my family. None of that seems particularly enjoyable, and it is a lot of work, but it’s still necessary to do those things, even if I am not particularly happy doing them, because it will help lead me to the life I want, a loving family with plenty of money. That would be nearly impossible to achieve if you just “did what makes you happy”.

Some nice pictures of sunsets that I found that I thought represented happiness in the waning years of life. (edited by Jake Williams)

So what should you do? It’s not really my place to say, as everyone has a different situation, but I would recommend focusing on your long term happiness, as opposed to short term thrills. Envision yourself doing what you would like to do in ten or fifteen years and take the necessary steps now during your developmental years if you’re young.

Also, maybe try and get a family and have kids. It might not sound appealing at the moment, but I believe you will find yourself far more fulfilled if you are able to raise another human to have a better life than yours, as opposed to simply focusing on making spreadsheets in the office every day for the rest of your life.

The trick to life I think is understanding that there are things more important than yourself, and that eventually you will be able to look at your children and grandchildren after a very long life and (hopefully) be able to say that you raised someone to be a better person than yourself. No one will remember how much money you made, no one will inherit it, and once you get old nobody will remember you or anything you did because those before you have since passed on, and since there’s no one after you, no one will remember you on that end either. You may have friends, but it pales in comparison to having children and grandchildren you helped raise and grow over many decades.

Obviously not everyone is able to have kids, which is unfortunate, and I wouldn’t hold anything against them for not doing so, but having kids if you’re able to is probably one of the best ways to becoming a fulfilled and happy person, and has worked for everyone I have asked.

In conclusion, my advice would be to focus on the big picture and think about where you want to be later in your life, instead of giving in to short term urges that could yield potential harm to your life prospects. Have a plan, and stick to that plan.

I imagine it like a roller coaster. During your younger years, you are still ascending up the lift hill, but it’s up to you to decide how high you go. If you decide to go down the drop too early, it’s not very fulfilling because the drop isn’t very tall, and the ride is over quickly. However, if you wait and continue going up the lift hill, when you eventually drop, it is a fantastic pay-off and exhilarating ride you should be satisfied with.

Everything that is truly spectacular takes a long time to manifest, and is not without struggle. Sometimes we do not always get to do what we want, but the goal I believe is to constantly build something that you can be proud of and will stand long after you are gone.