Indonesia Expat

In Pursuit of Happiness: Learning from Tom, Dick and Harry

Despite the hype about New Year being a time to celebrate there is something about the end of a year that causes us to pause, sit back and reflect. Perhaps it’s a realization that the clock is ticking, or maybe it is an instinct to leave your mark in the world. Irrespective we often look to our achievements to evaluate whether we are on the right track and if the celebrations should continue.

Do achievements really lead to happiness, or does happiness lead to achievements? This question has the potential to have you going in circles faster than a dervish on a Redbull diet, yet it’s a question worth exploring. To do so we will borrow the ideas of a writer called Seligman…

Meet Tom – Tom recently moved to Jakarta, he prides himself in being a simple man with logical thinking, logic and experience tell him that pleasures lead to positive emotions, which in turn lead to happiness. So Tom moulds his life around this belief and lives ‘the pleasant life; a life driven by the need (often incessant) to experience pleasure.

Tom derives happiness from shopping, eating, drinking, parties, massages and sex. If you still have trouble with the concept think Hollywood where Hugh Hefner mentors the Kardashians. Yes, enjoyable? Yes, luxurious? Yes, alluring? Yes, fun? Meaningful? Ermmmm…

Tom’s ‘pleasant life’ runs the motto ‘maximize pleasure and minimize pain’ – which is humane as not many people would have it the other way around. So Tom feels positive emotions and intentionally savours/enjoys these emotions. This is fine as long as it doesn’t spiral out of control; the pleasant life works in generating happiness, but for how long?

The challenges with ‘the pleasant life’ is we quickly become accustomed to things and start taking them for granted; leading happiness to fade.

So you wonder – when does ‘the pleasant life’ lead to a sustainable form of happiness? That would be in combination with ‘the good life’ and ‘the meaningful life’? ‘The pleasant life’, like the garnish on an exceptional meal, makes things look pretty without adding much to its taste. To explore ‘the good life’ and ‘the meaningful life’ we meet our two other characters, Dick and Harry.

Dick is your no nonsense, achievement driven individual, he is self-aware and goal oriented, he knows his strengths and has moulded his career, his relationships, his health – in fact he has moulded his entire life- to leverage these strengths. Being self-aware and goal oriented has served Dick well in life, he is an achiever, with a successful career he was shipped to Jakarta to deliver business results.

Dick lives ‘the good life’ whilst also knowing his boundaries and his strengths. He sets engaging goals that pleasantly challenge him to tap into his inner resources – logically, emotionally and creatively – Dick plays to his strengths because he plays to win.

Whilst engaged in goal achievement, Dick experiences a kind of happiness called ‘flow’, he gets so engrossed in his targets that he normally loses track of time and the world melts away, leaving him pleasantly satisfied at the end of a day. This feeling keeps on as long as the goal is not achieved, but what happens once the goal is achieved? Dick suddenly feels empty, wondering now what? What more is there to life? He most likely jumps into another project, defines another goal to achieve – hence his reputation as the achiever, Dick leaves behind him a trail of achievements but fails to see their purpose. This is where Dick could learn a thing or two from Harry.

Harry is just like Dick, however takes ‘the good life’ a step ahead. Whilst he is known to savour the pleasures in life, he has his priorities right – he is a self-aware individual who knows his strengths and better yet he has also taken the time to articulate his purpose in life, so he uses his strengths to belong to a greater, more worthwhile cause. Harry lives ‘the meaningful life’.

The meaningful life encourages you to find a sense of purpose beyond achievement for achievement’s sake; it encourages you to ask yourself why certain goals are important, how they are worthwhile and what you contribute to society by achieving them. Essentially, the meaningful life provides the most sustainable form of happiness as it gives all aspects of life a sense of direction so that each goal you achieve contributes towards your purpose in life.


Happiness is intertwined with achievement provided achievement has a greater purpose to it. So, why not do something different this year? Set out to find your purpose and work backwards to set goals that align with this purpose.


Identify your character strengths through this free strengths assessment tool:

Then, identify your purpose:
•    Make a table with five columns, labelling them Family & Relationships, Work, Community, Health & Wellbeing and Physical/Material Environment.
•    List positive words you would use to describe your ideal life in each of the areas in the appropriate column.
•    Review all the columns and identify all the words which have similar/common meanings, list them down separately.
•    Make an actionable mission statement using these words you listed, ensure your statement is beneficial to other people including yourself.
•    Ask yourself, ‘How can I use my strengths to deliver this mission in each area of my life?’ Make it a goal.
•    Then act accordingly…
And if things feel awkward at first remember ‘a ship in harbour is safe-but that’s not what ships are for.’

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