Why Quest Creates Happiness

Happiness of PursuitIn The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life, Chris Guillebeau examines how going after something in a methodical way enriches our lives.

Quests are long term pursuits, they are goal-oriented, and require diligent commitment to complete:

One of the key themes of quests is that they must be measurable.

They must have an end goal—you have to be able to say, “This is what I’m working toward and I’ll complete it when x happens.”

Documenting the steps along the way provides tremendous momentum, since you can see how far they’ve come and how far still remains.

People who are not engaged with a quest have a harder time making sense of the joy and dedication they create.

More than fourteen years ago, I set out to design a type of conversation where people from different walks of life, professional focus, and type of business/industry could come together to learn about common themes related to being a professional, delivering services/products, and dealing with people — both clients and colleagues/teams.

This side volunteer activity on top of my day job was deliberate and a limitless source of inspiration.

The Vision: to create a mechanism for diverse people and ideas to converge so they could help build on both meeting each other and discussing the same topics with a leader in the business community — we hosted events at Anthropologie, IKEA, most of the business schools around Philadelphia, banks, trendy cafes', TV stations (more details about building a platform here).

The Specific Goal: design at least 100 in person conversations.

The Strategy: use content at live events to invite a mix of professionals at various career levels, job titles and responsibilities and help activate a very dispersed and in many ways dis-connected business community on behalf of the city and region.

The Execution: planned at least three months out, the events would be free thanks to sponsors, who offered space to have the event and generous business leaders near and far who agreed to share what they learned.

For example, Ben McConnell flew in from Chicago to moderate a conversation about Creating Customer Evangelists. Yes, it was a book he co-authored with Jackie Huba, and one of ten books that stand the test of time, still the ROI of generosity has an extremely long tail, and good karma to boot.

To invite such a diverse crowd, I developed three series or content tracks based on universal themes like leadership, creativity, personal growth. I would alternate each month trying to keep the event withing a certain number of weeks from each other.

Events promotion (this is pre-Twitter) was the FastCompany.com listserv for people who already knew about the group and built a profile to interact online, various local email lists from complementary groups, and (mostly) word-of-mouth.

At some point and for a couple of years I was lucky enough to have a wonderful team of volunteers who helped bring the vision to life. I made sure I had regular get togethers with this group to both give back to them in the form of resources, connections, listening, and dialogue, and created an environment of open collaboration to become the beacon that would energize the larger group.

It took seven plus years to accomplish.

That was my quest.

The last two plus years I was mostly keeping the momentum going on my own. People found other jobs, moved away, had children, started their own quests, etc.

Why was I doing it?

One of the key aspects of figuring stuff out is asking why; in my case, I ask at least five times until I come to the real answer. We do weave complex webs and often hide our motives behind activities.

My reason was threefold:

  1. love of learning — I was designing my own program to learn by engaging most senses, and you can do that only when you get in a room with others;
  2. desire to be social — indeed I go meta on this one as well due to my upbringing, when I could meet people all the time without even trying, and found myself in US suburbia where nothing much ever happens unless you get in a car and plan to do something;
  3. experimenting with doing — I used to joke that the network events and listserv discussions where my lab to test content/ideas I would then refine in my day job. This was hugely beneficial

Designing experiences to help people connect and collaborate took a lot of work, trial and error, and time. Relationships do take time to set.

What I got out of it

Where do I start?

A sense of accomplishment derived from watching colleagues, peers, friends, and people from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences interact with the content at the event, and often do something with it in their business. This in turn translated into confidence and better execution at work.

Making new friends and acquaintances on a regular basis enriched my life beyond words. For that, they were the best years of my life.

We often speak about vulnerability and being authentic as the levers to creating positive momentum. What we sometimes forget to say is that no grand gestures or confessions are required to do that. Showing up and being in the moment is more than enough and learning what it feels like by doing it regularly helps you make it a habit, a good one to have both at work and in life.

From a distance years afford me now is that figuring out how we will measure our lives is probably the most meaningful of pursuits, and a potential starting point if you do not have a particular hitch to scratch or specific goal in mind.

When you engage in a pursuit, do you wonder why you are doing it and are you deliberate about what you want to get out of it? To me those are the two key ingredients to tell whether the quest is what you intended it to be.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.