A long time ago, people were happy with the right to vote, the right to worship freely, a little food in their bellies, and roof over their heads. As the years have progressed and society has become more consumer-driven, it takes a lot more to make people “happy.” New cars, the latest smart phones and electronics, fashionable clothing, and other things are what people want – convinced the latest trinket will finally bring them what they’ve been searching for.
If you ask a handful of successful people whether the stuff and money they have makes them happy, most will probably answer no. Rather it’s the moments in life that make it so rewarding: working hard on a project and meeting your goals, watching your children grow up, helping someone when they need it most. These are the instances that we will look back on and smile about.
So, should happiness be the only goal that motivates us?
Before we can answer that question, we must first define happiness.
Happiness is when all of your needs and desires are being met with little effort. It may surprise some of you, but happiness is often associated with selfish behavior – a taking mindset, rather than a giving one – a fleeting moment of hedonism.
Traditional wisdom would advise against seeking a life that is solely pleasurable, because you will end up stressed, aggravated, in a constant state of pursuit, and… unhappy. Today’s wisdom, however, blatantly advocates for the pursuit of happiness. Like marathons, it’s become a trendy fixation people need to pursue. There are Facebook challenges and a plethora of books for sale on Amazon, like The Happiness Project, all designed to help you be “happy.”
But are these books providing an outline to be happy or an outline for a meaningful life? Happiness without meaning is a shallow, egocentric way to live. Unlike happiness, a meaningful life is a giving one and stems from contributing to society and serving others.
And back to my original question: should happiness be our sole motivation?
Meeting your own needs will only get you so far. Real “happiness” – those moments that you replay in your head – come from a balance of fulfilling your own needs, but recognizing when they’ve been met so you can help others. It’s a give and take, rather than one or the other.
To cultivate happiness and meaning in your life, here are a few tips:
Find Your Passion
Joy creeps into your life when you do something you love. Finding a way to share your passions with the world will give your life meaning, while bringing happiness to yourself.
Compassion happens when we open ourselves to the anguish of others. It is a way of looking beyond our own needs, to those of others. When in doubt remember what the Dalai Lama said:
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
Focus on Your Relationships
Reconnect with your friends from college, call your mom, brother or aunt to have a chat, hug your spouse and/or your children. When the people in your life feel loved and cared about, they’ll begin to share that with other people, and eventually it will come full circle back to you.
Do you live a meaningful life? What do you do to ensure your life is both meaningful and happy?