The Meaning of Happiness

The most recent studies on happiness suggest that directly pursuing happiness may be a mistake.

Brad and Eva

Me and my niece Eva

More and more we are encouraged to be happy. Happiness is a hot topic in books, careers and the news, yet as a nation we aren’t happier.

It is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’- Viktor Frankl

The latest positive psychology research suggests that meaning is more important to long term satisfaction than feeling good.

Interestingly, the more we focus on getting happy, the less likely we are to be happy! Prime examples are parents who put the needs of their children above their own. While they may not feel as good on a daily basis, they tend to have more satisfying lives overall by living from a higher purpose. The classic case for meaning comes from Viktor Frankl, the author, psychiatrist and Nazi camp survivor.

The more pressure that we have to be happy, the less likely that we are to actually be happy. Especially if we organize our lives around the pursuit of happiness, instead of leading a life of meaning, in which happiness can be a by product rather than a goal.

This fits with my experience. For many years, I have pursued happiness and joy. In fact, if you’ve read my early blog posts,ย then you know that I started this blog as a way to both track and share my journey to joy. But I found joy, like happiness, to be elusive. There are certainly things that can create better feelings in our mind, body and emotions. In fact, we learned many of these mood boosters in a Blue Zoo team happiness project taught by Dr. Aymee Coget.

What has helped me to feel the most satisfied has been to identify my values, strengths and goals.ย Then set out to align my life with what is most important to me. In other words, to live a life of meaning. Exactly what Viktor Frankl, Dr. Aymee and many other experts teach. Lasting satisfaction in life comes from living with meaning and purpose. This doesn’t mean that we can’t use mood boosters to feel better, but they are temporary solutions.

As the recent studies suggest, pursuing happiness may be a mistake.ย Lasting happiness and satisfaction come from living a meaningful life. Clarify what is important to you and go do it!

14 thoughts on “The Meaning of Happiness

  1. I agree with you. Chasing something as ephemeral and elusive as an ideal of happiness just doesn’t wash. One ends up chasing the things we think make us happy, when in fact joy is a state of being and not dependant upon external objects, circumstances or even other people. One can feel it even when all the usual ‘happiness factors’ are absent. It comes, I think from living as a whole person, with awareness of ourselves and the world around us, and as you say, with purpose and meaning. The rest follows, as long as we let it. I have a feeling the biggest impediment to joy is our own refusal to embrace it when it knocks at the door of the heart, feeling we ‘ought’ to be worrying about this or that instead. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Hi Echo, thanks for sharing your perspective. In fact, you said it so well, you could have written the post ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve experienced what you describe when I’m in the midst of some challenge and my mind locks on it. If I’m able to loosen my mind’s small view, then heart, joy and life will be glad to come in the door! To meaning and presence or simply allowing, but that’s another post:)


  2. You’re getting deep on me here, Dear Brad…

    What is the secret recipe to happiness? As #3 of 4 kids, I spent years making choices based upon what I “thought” would please my parents. Then, one day, I woke up and realized I had to carve my own path — as different as it may be from the one they had taken. I truly believe there is that “aha moment” when one feels a calling (and this is as variant as snow flakes). A “higher purpose” can take a myriad of forms. I think the negative root of the “human condition” is that we think this calling needs to be the somehow the same…

    I wish you peace in your soul and happiness in your heart — always!

    P.S. The picture of you and Eva = ADORABLE!! xo


  3. Thanks Shauna. Being single, one of my joys is being uncle Brad. And I can’t use my nature pics on every post, even I’m bored with them. I’ll try not to get too deep. Sorting out my path and calling is still a mystery for me. In the meantime, I like writing, connecting and sharing. You are blessed to have a clear path. Thanks for frequent flying on channel MuseBrad ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. Not too deep at all — I love your introspection! Many people never take the time to ask such questions. My path was a complete cluster for many, many years. I’m just finding my focus in the last little bit…and, I think, I have a few years on you. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And, still, I question things. Enjoy the journey. It may seem confusing now, but as the pieces trickle together you can smile knowing the mystery was all part of the gift that is your life…


  5. Yes, I think I can relate to this in the sense that, when I’m doing something I find really engaging, like playing piano, the question of whether I’m happy or whether I’m moving in the direction of happiness doesn’t arise, because my attention is too focused on what I’m doing — and that focused “flow” state is really what I’m after.


  6. Hey Chris, I love that flow state too, when I lose myself is something completely, which opens the door to joy and happiness to come naturally. Sometimes it comes for me while writing or photographing. Being present can work too, but I like flow and movement..
    Keep on flowing! Brad


  7. Hi Brad,
    This is a lovely post! I believe that if we make happiness an attitude, as I have mentioned in one of my poems: ‘The Valley Of Happiness’, we are more likely to see it around us. If we try to find happiness in small everyday achievements of people dear to our heart, we start knowing happiness better.

    Years ago, one day in frustration, I shared a thought with my hubby – ‘where is God, I wish I could see and question him’ – and he replied…you have Him around, if your children are good and intelligent, if they are successful in their endeavours, you have found Him! That is what I call happiness and contentment.

    Thanks for directing me to this post, I liked it.


  8. Thanks for following my comment thread Balroop. That is a lovely idea from your husband to grow contentment (and connection to God) through kind acts and loving family. I agree that positive attitudes can influence and improve our lives. blessings and good night. ๐Ÿ™‚


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