Let go of your happiness quest and pursue your meaning instead


I recently stumbled upon a great article on Medium that you can read here. Its main idea was basically to stop looking for happiness and to pursue meaning instead. As Harold S. Kushner said, “you don’t become happy by pursuing happiness. You become happy by living a life that means something. ” But what does it mean exactly ?

We are often told at first we should work hard and comply with our responsibilities and duties if we want to succeed in life. Then, once we get to that point of exhaustion, or even burn out – you know what I’m talking about – we realize we should prioritize, or at least focus more on our health, both physical and mental.

We dive in head first (if you’re like me) in the myriad of online articles, books and documentaries about personal development which encourage us to be calmer, to learn to breathe and de-stress. They inspire us to be our better self in a journey that will eventually culminate in happiness and peace of mind.

“Happiness”. This word is so often used, yet so poorly understood. It seems everyone consider it to be the key of life – both today as well as in the ancient philosophers’ first writings. However, as Helen Keller said, “many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” 

As the Thomas Oppong explains in his article, even things we think would make us happier will not in the long term. For instance I think I speak for everyone when I say that we would be happy to have a salary increase. However, this will make us “glad”, rather than truly “happy”. In fact, doubling our income only increases happiness by 9 percent.

In addition, Iris Mauss, a social psychologist at U.C. Berkeley found that people who place a great value on being happy actually have more mental health problems, including depression notably.

That is quite surprising, and sad too. However if you think about it, trying to boost your happiness without an end goal is kind of pointless. Indeed, while happiness is supposed to be an end in itself – such as awareness, mindfulness, or peace of mind in the Buddhist tradition for instance – having a purpose can help you achieve that in a much more meaningful way. Not only it will make you happier on the long term, it will also prevent you from placing too much time and value on the principle of happiness as such.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” — Mark Twain

Being unmotivated, feeling unsure of yourself and aimless are certainly not pleasant feelings. It can also be hard to get rid of them. Forcing your happiness through it can last for a day, even a week, but definitely not a life. Rather, acknowledging how you feel instead of ignoring those feelings is much more productive in getting rid of them – and healthier for your mind too.

Working toward a personal goal, an original work or side project will provide you with an enduring feeling of fulfillment and leave you happier. Working on something bigger than yourself and creating added value are key elements to live a fulfilled life. Remember  : understanding your “why?” is as important as knowing your “what?” in life.

Easy gratification is not synonymous with happiness ; it just passes by. Achieving something always takes time and at least a moderate amount of effort – which makes sense, otherwise everyone would just be happy all the time if it was that easy. But it is so worth it, as instilling purpose and meaningfulness in your life will leave you more connected and engaged not only with yourself, but also with the world.

Find fulfilment in the process, not only the results, no matter how small the pursuit was, and remember to take actions every day to be not your “better”, but your “(more) fulfilled” self.



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