Leadership in the Pursuit of Happiness

By | November 15, 2019

[November 15, 2019]  Let’s be direct about this idea from the beginning.  The phrase pursuit of happiness is probably the most widely known in the U.S. Constitution and a popular catchphrase with American citizens.  But it is not what leaders do.

Leaders don’t pursue happiness, and they don’t pursue it on behalf of others.  The closest idea I can find to that concept is that leaders pursue responsibility.  From adopting responsibility, they find a level of satisfaction that exceeds all other emotional needs to include happiness.

I was listening to a young High School football coach talk the other day to some of his team.  He said that “Happiness is not what we’re after; we’re after winning.”  That made sense.  To win a football is the result of many hours of physically-demanding practice, learning the plays, and studying your opponent.  These actions are not a happy time because it’s hard work.

If what we want is “happiness,” then drugs and alcohol are a way to achieve it.  The downside is that five to ten percent of the population is destroyed by drugs and alcohol, very effective but also very destructive.  I will argue that happiness is not what most people are after in their lives.

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.” – Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome

I will assume that the translation of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is correct when using the word “happiness,” but I think perhaps the real meaning is not literal.  However, a key to better understanding the Emperor’s quote is his comment about virtue and nature.  Only through our association with virtue (correctly achieving our responsibilities) and nature (which tests our strength) can we be truly satisfied with our selves.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this, “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness, and both are at the end of the road.”  My thinking on this issue for a long time has led me to believe that we are better for ourselves and others only when our actions fulfill (satisfies). Happiness is an ancillary result.

Leaders don’t pursue happiness or eternal bliss.  From hard work, vision, and the ability to bring people together for a cause is what leaders do.  Satisfaction comes from having the weight of the world on their shoulders and bearing up under that weight.1


  1. https://www.theleadermaker.com/harder-work-means-greater-satisfaction/
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “Leadership in the Pursuit of Happiness

  1. Wilson Cox

    A short story to support Gen Satterfield article. My son has a new video game. It’s difficult so he put it on “indestructible mode” (meaning his character can’t die – easy mode). He also played it in hard mode. At the end of the game when he defeats the “boss” (final bad guy) my son told me that he felt better when he finished the game the hard way. The easy mode had no emotion and no thrill. The easy mode was uneventful and without satisfaction. I think he just learned something about life.

    1. Bryan Lee

      Wow, nice story Wilson. This is a life lesson. You might want to reinforce it.

  2. Scotty Bush

    I hope everyone had a great Veterans Day. I know that I’m a little behind in making this comment but I couldn’t pass it up.

    1. lydia

      I’m more glad the elections for this year are over. What a pain in the ass. The airwaves were full of negative political ads. What I’m most disappointed in, in our politicians, is that they are willing to shove boldface lies down our throats and then smile at us (what hypocrites). I’m more and more disappointed that they are trying to play one group of us against the other. That is not what great leaders do.

  3. Georgie B.

    Another great article from Gen. Satterfield. Thanks again for making my day. I particularly liked today’s article because it jumped out as not something that the ordinary person would discuss. I had a talk with my husband about it and we gained kind of a new outlook on things. Much appreciated.

    1. JT Patterson

      Say hello to your husband for us. Maybe he could also be a regular contributor here. Thanks Georgie.

    2. Harry Donner

      Hi Georgie, that’s why we come here to read about stuff like this. I’ve been a regular reader of the leadership blog for several years and I am never disappointed. More blogs should be like the one Gen. Satterfield has constructed and maintains for us. What I also like is that there is NO advertisements to get in the way and the simple design.

  4. Willie Shrumburger

    One of the most difficult things for Americans, I think, is that the Constitution explicit says for the pursuit of happiness. Now that the document does make for great guidance, like “all men are created equal..”, the problem is the misreading of the text. To really understand the US Constitution you must read commentary on it. The definition of the words have changed a little bit over time and thus we cannot get the full flavor of it without additional reading. I highly recommend great study of the document itself and the Federalist Papers.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Agree! Whenever people cherry pick parts of a philosophy and then apply it to themselves piecemeal, there is a great risk of it backfiring on us.

      1. Xerxes I

        This is why we need to know and understand key historical events in the past. Knowing the context in which it occurred and what those there were thinking is imperative to a fuller knowledge that can be applied to modern society.

  5. Army Captain

    Yes. In my humble opinion (based on about a decade in the US Army), we are at our best when we fulfill our greatest responsibilities.

    1. Valkerie

      Good to see you on this morning, Army Cpt. Thanks for supporting the arguments made by General Satterfield. I’m still pretty new to this blog but I like also reading the comments section for more in-depth discussion.

  6. Max Foster

    Right on article! We are not for “happiness” in the pleasure sort of way but in pursuit of satisfaction of life. It starts with a good family, community, and Christian upbringing. Never teach victimhood. Never give excuses for failure. This is what makes us good and then this so-called happiness will just happen. If pursued, hell is the end point.

    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      Now that is an interesting point Max. When we pursue happiness, hell is the destination. Wow! Very deep. I get what you’re saying but am having difficulty with the logic. Not sure I can put it any better.

    2. Billy Kenningston

      Excellent point, Max. When you speak with drug addicts, one of the main reasons they are doing drugs (to their detriment) is for the attainment of something that brings them great pleasure. They confuse, I think, pleasure and happiness. These are not the same.

      1. Eric Coda

        It’s my understanding that illegal drugs and alcohol destroys about 5 to 10 percent of the population. Don’t start in the first place is the answer to that. But to get back to the point here, that the pursuit of happiness is not a good strategy in life. Pursue satisfaction with your own life and that of your family and you will be a better person in the long run.


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