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Finding a Quest with THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT

happiness of pursuitThe Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau first got on my radar last last year when he was interviewed on one of my favorite podcasts. Guillebeau talked about the benefits of a creative pursuit and the satisfaction you can get from a quest of some kind. At the time I was well in the middle of planning my trip to Europe, so I filed the book and idea away for a later date.

As I was trying to decide on my One Little Word for the year, the idea of a pursuit or a quest kept coming back to me. I ultimately decided on a different word, but I still felt like starting my year with a book on the benefits and logistics of taking on quest would help get me off on the right foot. Happily, The Happiness of Pursuit was just perfect for that purpose.

First, I think it’s important to share how Guillebeau defines a quest. This definition is pretty broad and a little long, but it does give a sense of what kinds of challenges or projects Guillebeau had in mind as he was doing interviews for the book:

  • A quest has a clear goal and a specific end point. You can clearly explain a quest in a sentence or two. Every quest has a beginning, and sooner or later, every quest will come to an end.
  • A quest presents a clear challenge. By design, a quest requires that something be overcome. Not every quest needs to be dangerous or next to impossible to achieve, but it shouldn’t be easy either.
  • A quest requires sacrifice of some kind. There is no “having it all” when it comes to a quest – to pursue a big dream, you must give something up along the way.
  • A quest is often driven by a calling or sense of mission. A calling need not be some form of divine inspiration. It is often expressed simply as a deep sense of internal purpose.
  • A quest requires a series of small steps and incremental progress toward the goal. As we’ll see, many quests are composed of a long, slow-and-steady march toward something, with moments of glory and elation few and far between.

I really like that list, and it makes sense even when you think of quests across a variety of scales. Although the main thread of the book is Guillebeau’s on quest to visit every country in the world, he also profiles many, many other people who have undertaken quests of some time, giving the book a breadth of examples to learn from.

As I got into the first few chapters of the book, I was worried that the book was going to be entirely filled with people taking on incredible physical tasks or elaborate travel quests – running multiple marathons, walking across the United States, sailing around the world. While those are cool projects, they are well beyond the kind of quest I feel like I am interested or capable of taking on. If that were the case, the book would have been interesting but not very helpful.

Luckily, Guillebeau devotes some time midway through the book to “everyday adventures” closer to home. One woman decided to cook an elaborate, multi-course meal from every country in the world. Another couple made it a goal to see all of the basilicas in the United States. Another man set out to finish an elaborate computer science course in a single year. These aren’t as epic as visiting every country in the world, but they have the same characteristics of a quest Guillebeau laid out. I appreciated having some examples of quests on a smaller scale.  

The book is also excellent when it comes to thinking through the steps of a quest or other big project. Guillebeau explores how to find a quest, how to work with friends and family along the way, logistical issues and the importance of documenting your efforts. It’s comprehensive, helpful and practical and makes the idea of an epic project seem possible.

Even if you’re not considering an epic quest, I think the book offers some great inspiration for taking on any big goals or life changes. Set a challenge that is important and meaningful. Make sure you have a clear goal and can outline a set of specific steps to move towards your goal. And be ready to make sacrifices in service of your goal – as the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easily. This was a great book to begin a year where I hope to find a more clear sense of purpose, quest-related or not.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links through Amazon. If you make a purchase through any of those links, I will receive a small commission.

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • BermudaOnion (Kathy) January 14, 2016, 9:11 am

    I know a few people who would love this book!

  • Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf January 14, 2016, 12:23 pm

    My book blog started as a quest (52 books in a year) and look where I ended up, ha! This sounds like a great read. 🙂

    • Kim January 17, 2016, 9:03 am

      That’s so cool, I didn’t know that!

  • Hillary Roberts January 15, 2016, 7:29 am

    I JUST read this. My quest this year is to read 200 books this year.

    • Kim January 17, 2016, 9:04 am

      Oh my gosh, that’s amazing! I don’t know if I could do that… lots of sacrifice, I think 🙂

  • Jennine G January 15, 2016, 4:20 pm

    Sounds like a cool read. I am in the middle of all kinds of possible journeys this year! My health journey, which probably won’t have an end end, but will definitely hit a point where I’ve arrived. You know, no longer a weakling attempting to exercise. My PhD program is probably the other big one coming up…won’t know for a few months but would love for it to be the next big journey!

    • Kim January 17, 2016, 9:05 am

      Wow, sounds like a big year. That’s exciting though, sometimes we need to shake things up and see what happens. Good luck!

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey January 19, 2016, 12:03 pm

    I’m very motivated by quests and goals in video games, so the idea of reframing life goals in this way appeals to me 🙂

    • Kim January 23, 2016, 5:59 pm

      There’s an anecdote about a guy who tried to “gameify” his life, basically giving himself rewards for challenges and tasks. I wish I remembered more details about it, but anyway, that might be a thing for you!

  • Michelle January 21, 2016, 7:56 am

    This book and your review intrigue me. I have never really considered a quest in any form, but, from what it sounds like, any personal improvement project we take on with clear goals could be construed as one. I’m thinking of weight loss or any sort of physical training. Very interesting. Thanks!

    • Kim January 23, 2016, 6:00 pm

      Yeah, I think both of those could be valid quests in a smaller sense, especially as they involve investment over time and sacrifice in favor of a larger goal.

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