Is chasing happiness actually making your clients miserable?

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Is chasing happiness actually making your clients miserable?

I recently watched a TED talk by Emily Esfahani Smith which really got me thinking about the work we do as Personal Trainers.

If we try and boil down the number one reason a client hires us I think what they really want is to feel happier.  A client who comes to us who wants to lose weight likely thinks that if they lose the weight they’ll feel better about themselves, have more confidence, be happier. A client who has a performance goal to be stronger, faster or powerful likely thinks that if they achieve that it will give them a feeling of success, accomplishment, pride, happiness. While they might not use the word happiness, at the end of the day I think that’s what it ultimately boils down to. People want to feel different, they want to feel happier.

In the TED Talk Emily shares what the research shows about happiness, specifically that chasing happiness actually makes us more unhappy. Think of the client that’s over-training. They’re chasing a goal of some kind, work too hard towards it, end up losing ground so they think they have to work even harder and the vicious cycle only gets worse.

There’s a similar cycle with the pursuit of happiness. The more we chase it, the less happy we feel.

She shares that even with this obsession on finding happiness, more people than ever feel hopeless, alone and depressed and that the root cause of this is a lack of meaning in our lives.

In her talk she draws a clear distinction between happiness and meaning:

  • Happiness is a state of comfort and ease, feeling good in the moment.
  • Meaning is deeper and comes from belonging to and serving something beyond yourself and from developing the best from within you.

When I think about what we do as Personal Trainers, we help our clients be their best…and through our own personal and professional development we also bring out the best from within ourselves.

People who have meaning in their lives are more resilient, do better in school and work and live longer

So how can we live a more meaningful life? Here are her 4 pillars to a meaningful life:

  1. belonging – this is about being valued for who you truly are and valuing others for who they are. We have a tremendous opportunity to create an environment where our clients feel they belong. To see them for who they are, without judgement, without expectations.
  2. purpose – this is less about what you want and more about what you give. This is about using your strengths to help others. What strengths do you use in helping your clients?
  3. transcendence – those rare moments when you’re lifted above the hustle and bustle of daily life. You get so into the zone you lose all sense of time and place. When was the last time you were in “the zone”? What were you doing?
  4. storytelling – the story you tell yourself about yourself. We are the authors of our stories and can change the way we’re telling them. How can we help our clients tell themselves a different story about themselves?

I think it’s really important as Personal Trainers that we think about how we can build one or more of these pillars into how we train our clients. If we believe that our role is to help our clients become the best version of themselves, then it makes sense to look at how we can help them create more meaning in their life.

A final thought from the TED talk: happiness comes and goes. But when life is really good and when things are really bad having meaning gives you something to hold on to.

And by the way, while this blog post is looking at how we work with our clients, it’s also great info that we could be using personally ourselves…

Watch the TED Talk here.

Brenda Adams | The PT Collective | Founder, Life Coach, Kinesiologist


With over 20 years in the fitness industry Brenda understands what it takes to thrive in
this industry. Through her unique combination of being a kinesiologist, life coach and
adult educator she brings together a set of skills and experiences that few in the fitness
industry have. She is passionate about helping other fitness professionals discover
what they need so they can thrive personally and professionally.

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