The Frosting, the Cake, and Why You’re Not Happy

By: Jim Murphy

The Frosting, the Cake, and Why You’re Not Happy


  1. The best part of a cake for many, is the frosting. But without the cake, now we’ve just got a very sweet topping that loses all its goodness without the base below it.
  2. The cake is amazing of course, but it’s amazing only after you’ve had solid sustenance to meet you’re body’s needs.
  3. When you spend your life chasing the frosting, who you are slowly dissipates as you lose out on the necessary nutrients to live with fullness of life.
  4. Happiness is something we all want, but it’s so illusive, because it’s the frosting, not the cake. And without the foundational food before it, it rarely shows up.

“Personally as an actor, I started enjoying my work and literally being more happy when I stopped trying to make the daily labor a means to a certain end. For example, I need this film to be a box office success. I need my performance to be acknowledged. I need the respect of my peers. All those are reasonable aspirations, but the truth is, as soon as the work, the daily making of the movie, the doing of the deed became the reward in itself, for me, I got more box-office, more accolades and respect than I ever had before. – Matthew McConaughey, This is Why You’re Not Happy

The pandemic changed you

The great danger in our post-pandemic world is that whoever you were becoming going into the pandemic, you’ve become more of that person coming out of it. Of course this is not a danger if, going in, you were becoming more selfless (and therefore fearless), less self-protective and more self-sacrificing, more loving (and therefore joyful), and less afraid (since there’s no fear in love).

If you had strict boundaries around your thoughts, words and desires pre-pandemic, perhaps the forced solitude and abrupt end to all your plans and projects brought more peace, more joy and more passion than ever before. Sure, initially it was tough for everyone, but perhaps for you, it made you realize that you need to slow down, be more grateful and more intentional about the person you’re becoming.

Most of us, however, especially in the United States, have been caught up in busyness, chasing dreams, or simply pursuing more comfortable lives for ourselves and our families.

The fundamental error that most of us (especially in Western culture) have gotten caught up in, is that we’re focused on the wrong things. Our biggest goal has been too elusive and empty.

The wrong path

We climb the mountain not for the journey and growth and incredible experiences along the way, but for the Instagram-worthy photo op at the top. We want to show our increasingly competitive and loud world that we’re here too, we’re somebody that deserves to be acknowledged, to be followed. All this because we want one thing. We want to be happy.

We chase after positive, temporary feelings that come from good circumstances. The problem is that happiness is so extremely shortsighted, lacking substance.

Most people spend their entire lives trying to do more, accomplish more and have more, so they can feel ok about themselves, so they’re validated in some way. They (unknowingly) devote their lives to being enough, which translates into doing more and more to just try and be happy, with less and less returns.

They end up chasing the frosting and not the cake nor the base below it. Though unaware, most of us get caught up pursuing temporary transactions that bring only fleeting feelings of satisfaction, diminishing our sense of self.

Are you on the right path?

The pandemic left so many of us with anxiety, which created more self-protection and self-concern, which ironically creates more anxiety.

One way to understand the path you’ve been on is to look at what has consumed you lately (what you’ve thought about most), and what you’re most afraid of losing. For many, that thing would be happiness. Sure, you wouldn’t describe it like that, but in essence, that’s what it is. Or another way to put it, you’re biggest fear is losing all your comforts, protections, and securities. You’ve devoted your life to the pursuit of a comfortable life for you and your family, but with so much out of your control, you could lose it all, and this has made you anxious.

So what can you do?

You can build a heart that’s fearless and a mind that’s focused. You can develop your true self, the wholehearted one that’s meant to feel fully alive. You can pursue heart transformation, to go from a ❤️ built on temporary transactions and constant comparison to one devoted to a purpose beyond self that you can do every day, whether you meet every goal or lose everything you have.

Don’t settle for less. You were created for glory. Anyone can live an extraordinary life, because it doesn’t take talent or resources. It takes the willingness to let go of your own comfort and needs and sacrifice your feelings and desires for others.

How to be happy

  1. Say this out loud right now: “I will never pursue happiness again, for the rest of my life.” It’s way too low a goal. Or wait, did you want me to call your kid every Friday at 3pm and tell him a joke, because that’s what you want most for him, to be happy? Happiness will always be a gift, a momentary by-product when circumstances met my desires.
  2. Learn the meaning of these words: The best possible life has one foot in joy and one foot in suffering. Joy is a deep sense of well-being, freedom and gratitude, independent of circumstances. To have one foot in suffering means to willingly put yourself face to face with those in need, and learn to sacrifice personal comfort to care for someone else.
  3. Redefine success to a purpose that’s deeply meaningful to you. If you do, you’ll realize that it always involves love, because love is the most powerful, impactful force in the universe. Of course i’m not talking about romantic love, those good but conditional feelings that last as long as each person is getting what they want. I’m talking about the much more powerful kind called Agape (in Greek), the unconditional kind.
  4. Realize that the only path to an extraordinarily beautiful life filled with love, wisdom and courage involves trouble and suffering. You cannot develop wisdom and inner strength without walking alone in the desert, just like you cannot be compassionate without being willing to suffer, because by definition, compassion means to suffer with.
  5. Remember the fundamental law of the universe: Cling to your life and you’ll lose it; give up your life for others and you’ll find it.
  6. Devote your life to heart transformation, because who you’re becoming impacts everything you do, personally and professionally, and has by far the biggest impact on every part of your life and your family’s life.
  7. Build a foundation that starts with a clear purpose for your life beyond yourself, then develop strict routines of thought and action that help you learn to sacrifice and even suffer, because if you want to be great at anything you need passion, and passion is the willingness to suffer. Every time you sacrifice for someone with no conditions or strings attached, you’re building the part of you that is fearless.

Let me know if this is helpful!

Love Jim


Project update: Now that I’m fairly healthy again (I had some version of the flu for 2 weeks since coming back from the Middle East), it’s back to the audiobook. We’re also working on an Inner Excellence Coaching Certification Course, which is for those who want to learn how to teach Inner Excellence. We’ve also got the Intro to Inner Excellence book to work on (working title: Pedro’s Pickleball Problem). Let me know what you’re most excited about!

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