The Happiness of Pursuit

Historically, personal development has been a big part of Get Rich Slowly. Back in 2012, founder J.D. wrote, “I'm a firm believer in personal development. Self-improvement is part of living a rich life. In fact, when I started this blog … the self-improvement category was one of the first I implemented.”

But not so long ago, I'd never read a self-help or personal development book. In fact, I avoided that section of the bookstore — it was all too woo-woo and mushy for me. Then I got hooked on yoga, and I read a lot of woo-woo titles, like “Living the Mindful Life” and “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.” Gross, right?! (But I loved them both.)

Fast forward to today, and I've read a lot of personal development books, even non-yoga ones. I've paid for several online business courses that also tackled issues like how to stop feeling guilty and how to stand tall and own your pricing.

I estimate that I've paid thousands of dollars for self development at this point. And it's hard to quantify the results, but I did reach my goal of quitting my day job. I'm more aware of the stories I tell myself that hold me back. I'm more likely to pause before I react. I'm far from perfect, but I am happier with each passing year.

So today I want to share the latest self development book I've read, “The Happiness of Pursuit.” Written by Chris Guillebeau, the founder of The Art of Nonconformity and author of “The $100 Startup,” this book is about finding a quest that brings purpose to your life.

The gist of it

In case you aren't familiar with Chris's quest, he set out to visit every country in the world by the age of 35, a goal he reached last year. During his quest, he met a lot of people with their own quests — some travel-based, but many that were not. What the quests had in common, though, was that each of them were enriching the person's life in some way.

So Chris wrote “The Happiness of Pursuit” as a study of these quests, drawing on hundreds of interviews that reveal people's motivations, how they dealt with roadblocks, how they funded the quest, how they handled logistics, and more.

Section one: Beginnings

The first part of the book is made up of five chapters about the beginning of a quest. First, Chris defines what a quest is:

  • It has a clear goal and a specific end point.

  • It presents a clear challenge — not easy, but not impossible.

  • A quest always seems to require sacrifice of some kind, even if it's not immediately apparent.

  • It's often driven by a calling or a sense of purpose.

  • It requires a series of small steps toward the bigger goal.

According to the book, one way many people found their calling is by paying attention to the crazy ideas they couldn't stop thinking about. For instance, Sandi Wheaton had always wanted to travel Route 66 and take photos of the trip. When she was laid off of her job at General Motors, she wasn't very excited about finding another job. So she decided to be serious about her crazy idea, and she took the plunge. After her trip, her photography landed on the cover of an art magazine, and she started receiving offers for speaking engagements. Eventually, it led to a new career in the travel industry.

Chris says that many quests begin like Sandi's — from a sense of discontent. “Add action to that discontent,” he writes. “Find a way to do something about the uncertainty you feel.”

This section of the book also includes a chapter called “Defining Moments” that discusses the moment people decided to take on a quest. In most cases, it came from an emotional awareness of mortality (i.e. “I know I will someday die”) versus an intellectual awareness of mortality (i.e. “I know that no one lives forever.”)

“This new awareness may come in response to an external event, such as the death or sudden illness of a friend, or from confronting a serious health problem,” writes Chris. “Other times, there's a stirring of the soul that increases in tempo until it's impossible to ignore. Whatever it is, the more we're emotionally aware of our own mortality, the more we feel compelled to live with a sense of purpose.”

Section two: Journey

The second section of the book covers topics like how to believe in yourself, what to do if you're risk-averse, creating structure for your quest, accounting for time and cost, examples of how people funded their quests, and dealing with monotony and misadventures.

But my favorite part from this section is the story about Sasha Martin, a young mother who used to travel the world, but was now stationary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Travel was pretty much out at the moment — she and her husband had a six-month-old baby and they lacked the funds.

“The big idea she settled on was to embrace culture through cuisine,” writes Chris. “Stovetop Travel was Sasha's project to introduce meals from around the world into her home kitchen. If it sounds simple, understand that it was no ‘buy a wok and learn to make stir-fry' weeklong task … Sasha chose to cook an entire meal from each country's cuisine every week, following the alphabet in A-Z fashion for a total of 195 weeks.”

Each week consisted of researching, consulting friends around the world who started following her journey, and creating a complete meal — at least one main course and generous number of starters and side dishes. She would even play music from the country of the week.

“Missing the travel experiences of her youth, she hoped to rekindle a sense of foreign connection by dicing peppers and baking pastries,” writes Chris. “Meanwhile, [her daughter's] first solid food was Afghan chicken. By three years old, [her daughter] was equally comfortable using silverware or chopsticks.”

A few years into the project, Sasha's quest is being replicated by other families, and she's given talks at schools and in other forums.

Section three: Destination

The final section is about what happens after a quest: the ways it can change you, how to explain your big quest to others, and possible next steps after completing something so big.

“Quests do not always tie up well,” writes Chris. “Sometimes the ending is glorious, and sometimes it's bittersweet. Either way, take some time to process all you've been through. When you're ready, choose a new adventure.”

There also are three appendices, including the big takeaways from the book, a chart that details the quests featured in the book, and ideas for quests that don't require relocating to another country or completing 100 marathons. (Just typing “100 marathons” makes my knees hurt.)

My take

For the last year, I've been in a huge rut. I've questioned the purpose of pretty much everything. And it all stemmed from the emotional awareness of mortality that Chris talks about in his book — which was a result, exactly as he says, of the sudden death of a friend. So, all that is to say that I might not be the most unbiased book reviewer. Fair warning.

But I felt inspired by “The Happiness of Pursuit.” Even if you can't (or have zero desire) to travel to every country in the world, there's a lot of great stuff in the book for shaking up your routine and trying something different.

As for what I'll do with it? I like the idea of a cooking-related quest or something around sustainable living — I'm not exactly sure yet.

But what about you, readers? Have you ever taken on a quest? Do you have a crazy idea you can't stop thinking about?

More about...Books

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
29 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Alix
Alix
6 years ago

Thanks for the recommendation — just requested it from my local library!

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago

I think we have to be careful with “pursuit” and “purpose” and “quests”. Sometimes the thought that we have to have those things, a grand purpose or some sort of quest leads people to unnecessary angst. Often these quests end up uncompleted or empty. Should you keep traveling even if you’re bored with it in order to reach some arbitrary number? Does it mean you’ve failed if you stop before then? What if you feel horrid and empty after you’re done with the quest? The people I know who live the quest-based lifestyle never seem happy. It’s like one mid-life… Read more »

Natasha
Natasha
6 years ago

A little over a month ago, I was in a position where there was a 50% chance that I would have lived to make it to the hospital, and about a 50% chance that I would lived make it out. I experienced pulmonary embolisms in both lungs, with multiple clots. So many, that the hospital didn’t even count them. “I know I will someday die” That being said, I believe this post has a lot to do with choice. In North America, many of us have the luxury to pursue something that makes us feel truly alive, and at the… Read more »

MoneyAhoy
MoneyAhoy
6 years ago

This reminds me of last night. My wife and I were watching a really bad movie, and she suggested we just turn it off and do something else. We were already 2/3 of the way through, and I suggested we just finish it.

I think you’re spot on with this comment. If you setup these huge goals/quests, it can be harder to admit that there is no point in completing it anymore if it becomes unnecessary.

sarah
sarah
6 years ago

I logged in to say something similar, but you said it better. I was also thinking that the idea of getting joy from the act of working toward a goal isn’t exactly new. If you want to find ways to live a happier life, I’d recommend “The Happiness Project” which is much more practical and based in research. She also talks about our need to face challenges and have opportunities for mastery.

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I agree with this. Also, my first thought was…I wonder how much he actually got to experience in each of those countries. I know when I travel I like to research where I’m going, stay a while, get to to know people and cultures, maybe a little of the language. I’ve only been to a few countries, but I wouldn’t trade my experiences for more quantity at the risk of less quality. Though I did Google how many countries there are and was surprised it was only 195…which is only a little more… Read more »

David
David
5 years ago

I like the movie analogy. I believe if we ‘fail’ at anything in life we must fail quickly and move on. Don’t get bogged down stubbornly trying to fix things that are broken. If you don’t like the movie turn it off. Start a new movie. If you don’t find the quest fulfilling anymore stop it and find a new quest. One day’s grand purpose is the next day’s drudgery. I don’t think we should avoid this grand purpose thinking just because we may not find it as grand somewhere down the line. Personally I love the focus that a… Read more »

Mrs PoP
Mrs PoP
6 years ago

I’ve learned that for me, if I focus too much on a specific end goal, it can be more challenging to enjoy the journey of getting there. (A downside to being a very goal oriented person.) So when Mr PoP and I make plans and goals, we really have to make the process part of the goal otherwise I can get frustrated with myself if we fall short on the final end goal – even if “falling short” means the end goal no longer makes sense to us.

A0
A0
6 years ago

This (from nicoleandmaggie): It’s ok to live life planting your garden, growing from day to day rather than fad to fad. (Even if your home-base is in Portland. Even if you’ve attended “World Domination Summit.” You don’t have to buy what they’re selling.) I’ll admit here that I tried to follow Chris’s blog but was quickly turned off by his insistence that the way to be different, the end goal as it were, was to travel…just like everybody else seems to be harping on these days. I can’t ignore the irony. Constant travel wreaks havoc on establishing a life at… Read more »

Anne
Anne
6 years ago
Reply to  A0

Regarding the reference to the writer’s quest to go to all the countries in the world. This is just me, and I absolutely adore traveling, but there are many countries I have no wish to see. Many countries.

That sort of check list feels a bit forced. But again, that is just my opinion.

sarah
sarah
6 years ago
Reply to  A0

My first thought was “This is a grown up man who thinks wants his life to be a video game.”

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

I already was a teenager and rebelled and got high and went crazy and hitchhiked and faced danger and chased women halfway across the planet and did whatever I wanted well into my 20s. Eventually I got tired of that (“adventure” gets really tiring and boring and repetitive and pointless) and decided to grow up– not by being a “conformist,” but by caring about people and things that are bigger than my need for self-indulgence, and by taking responsibility for my piece of the world. These days I don’t handle dissatisfaction by trying to be 19 again. I am old… Read more »

Laura
Laura
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

El Nerdo/#6: This. This. This.

Cookster
Cookster
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I could go to the ends of the earth and fine me there! I have learned to want more from life in relationships, not goals.

Ely
Ely
6 years ago

I too am skeptical of ‘quests’ and was quickly turned off by Chris’ attitude on his site. However I do have a thing I want to do, which is to drive around to various state parks and things – Banff, Glacier, Crater Lake, Devil’s Tower, etc – and camp: basically, experience America’s natural beauty up close. On the other hand, I don’t want to give up my stable home and job and life to do that. I’m sure my life will need a major shakeup at some point, but until then I am content as I am.

Andrew
Andrew
6 years ago

To an unfortunate extent, the whole World Domination Summit/ Get Rich Slowly/ Art of Nonconformity / D Roth/ Chris Guillebeau / Portland, Oregon nexus is nothing more than a mutual admiration society.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

I guess I’m now following, what does Portland have to do with anything? I know that’s where JD lives but I don’t “get it”.

Ely
Ely
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

If you lived here you would get it. It’s just that kind of place. 😉

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Ely

@Ely -I do live here and I still don’t get it. 🙂

FindX
FindX
6 years ago

I guess when I read the article I took a different view than the other commenters. I was thinking of quests or goals you might set for yourself to feel more fulfilled. My main goal right now is a career change goal. I’m taking a lot if baby steps that may some day get me where I want to be. Meanwhile I’m having so much fun taking online courses that let me work on projects similar to my new career. They are all mostly free, so I’m keeping with the spirit of getting rich slowly. 😉 They are mostly programming… Read more »

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago
Reply to  FindX

That sounds like a great goal! There isn’t anything wrong with having goals (or a bucket list) per se, but it makes much more sense to have them because they’re something that you want to do than to have them because you feel like you need some kind of goal. Helps with enjoying the journey too. Same thing with purpose. Having a purpose is great if it’s something you care about, but arbitrarily trying to come up with one probably isn’t going to create any more happiness than just being a good person and living your life would. I dunno,… Read more »

April
April
6 years ago

Hey guys, April here. I hope I didn’t misrepresent this book! My takeaway from it is that there are a lot of ways to shake up your routine, IF that’s something that you want. A quest can also be altruistic. I probably should’ve included the example of the woman who decided to give $10 each day to a different, researched charity for one year. Her goal was to discover great, smaller charities, and it resulted in a lot of readers following along and donating to the causes she wrote about. I do understand some of the comments about travel. Like… Read more »

sarah
sarah
6 years ago
Reply to  April

I don’t think you misrepresented the book. I think it probably just appeals to the blogger/writer/freelancer/my life will be unique and different type (that would be you and the other reviewers) and not so much to everyone else.

Beard Better
Beard Better
6 years ago

It seems like this book is more about how to find a new angle for starting a blog and becoming a freelance writer/photographer/etc. That’s totally fine for people who are into that, but for most people it’s neither practical nor desirable. Additionally, I feel the need to point out the extreme confirmation bias here. Yes, finding a quest to devote oneself to can be good, but it also has a lot of downsides and a HUGE potential for failure (which would only compound any pre-existing personal or financial problems). While it’s great that some people find their life’s passion and… Read more »

April
April
6 years ago
Reply to  Beard Better

Chris actually does say that a quest is not about starting a business. Sometimes it turns out that way, like it did for him, but it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal. I probably should have included more examples like that, but my post was getting a little long and I made some cuts…

Personally, I like the idea of a smaller quest or goal, like a little side project to do for fun.

Jacq
Jacq
6 years ago

Tim Minchin’s occasional address is pretty spot on for me – esp. these: http://www.timminchin.com/2013/09/25/occasional-address/ 1. You Don’t Have To Have A Dream. Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead… Read more »

Vikas Rana
Vikas Rana
6 years ago

Thanks for recommending this book, love the “Beginnings” section..who wouldn’t be motivated?

I have taken on many quests: like going overseas at age of 17 to study in a totally diff country, culture. Then to Silicon Valley (SF)…Wall St was next.

Last one was becoming financially free at age 35 and moving to India. Different quest every time..:-)

Vikas

Olga King
Olga King
6 years ago

Travel is not a quest but rather an indulgence. It is totally fine to want to visit every country – I don’t want “every”, but definitely quite a few. However, “finding myself through traveling” sounds immature. Like “Eat, pray, love” – that was a silly romantic movie, not a “quest”. Quest is what Mother Theresa was doing kind of thing…big, with a real purpose beyond yourself. I like to use “finding myself” too, and I am, but surely I am not on any quests, I live my life and figure things out as I go, every day wiser and hopefully… Read more »

arsh
arsh
6 years ago

We can’t find happiness outside. If you are at peace with yourself, you will be happy anywhere in the world. If you are not, you cant be happy even if you travel to Mars and space. The more you search it outside, the more elusive it will be. It is
better to find happiness in the small and little things in your daily life. Simplicity brings peace. Dream small, be less ambitious and feel the peace inside.

shares