The pursuit of happiness is a universal quest that has occupied people for centuries. Some of the world’s greatest philosophers and psychologists have pondered the nature of happiness – what it is, how to find it and how to keep it.
Tal Ben-Shahar, a psychologist, author and lecturer who recently taught a popular course on positive thinking at Harvard University, has defined happiness as having two parts…
The first part is pleasure, a temporary emotion that we experience when we engage in activities that make us feel good.
The second part of happiness is purpose. According to Ben-Shahar and many other contemporary thinkers, happiness that endures comes from pleasure that has meaning.
Martin Seligman, who is often called the father or Positive Psychology, defines a meaningful life as one in which a person’s strengths and virtues are applied to goals that are bigger than oneself. Without meaning, the pursuit of happiness is just the empty pursuit of pleasure.
Ben-Shahar and Seligman both differentiate between short-term and long-term happiness. While pleasure can make the moments in each day more joyful and exciting, meaning and purpose provide long-lasting contentment and satisfaction.
Pleasure without meaning is mere hedonism.
When you live with purpose, you derive long-term happiness from the belief that you have created value in your life and in the lives of others.
Here are 5 ideas for finding happiness
through meaning and purpose.
Create a Vision of your Purpose. Determining your purpose in life requires self-reflection and personal assessment. Look at the significant areas in your life that give you pleasure. Your purpose is often found in your passions, values and strengths. Many people have meaningful careers that give their lives purpose, while others find purpose in church, family, volunteering or in developing a talent. Once you have a vision of your purpose, make it the thing that gets you out of bed each morning and motivates you to face the day with renewed energy.
Let your Passion be your Guide. You have a limited amount of time on this planet – don’t waste it dong things you hate. Of course most of us have to spend some amount of time doing things that we don’t like to do, but the key is to save time and energy for the things you love. Not sure where your passion lies? Think about meaningful activities that give you pleasure. Chances are good that your passion can be found in those activities.
Make a Difference. You life will not have purpose when it’s focused on your own needs and desires. Think of things you can do that will make a difference in the world. Look for ways to selflessly contribute to your family, work, community and to the world at large. Personal assessment is also needed here to identify your unique gifts and talents and then use them to improve the lives of other people. You don’t have to jump into a life-changing project. Instead, start small and then see where it takes you.
Develop your Strengths. Martin Seligman has identified a set of core virtues that are valued in almost every culture. These virtues include wisdom, courage, love, justice, moderation and spirituality. We can achieve these virtues by developing our strengths, which Seligman defines as moral traits that can be learned and cultivated. For example, patience is a strength that can be learned and developed and will lead to the virtue of moderation. Instead of worrying about talents you may not have been born with, focus on developing strengths and sharing them with the world.
Don’t forget the Mind-Body Connection. Healthy living is key when it comes to finding meaning and purpose in life. It’s hard to find meaning in life when your time is dominated by health problems. A healthy diet and exercise will lower the amount of stress in your life, provide energy and keep you out of the doctor’s office.
As you move through life in search of purpose and meaning, take time for reflection and self-discovery. To keep yourself from getting stalled, it’s a good idea to set meaningful goals and monitor your progress.
Keeping simple records of how much time you spend each day working towards your goals will give you a clear picture of how you’re progressing. Don’t be afraid to question your goals and activities and change them if they’re not providing the meaning that you thought they would.
The discovery of meaning in life should be a constant source of happiness.