Why Purpose Is a Requirement for Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is empty without meaning and purpose.

  • Happiness in life is a byproduct of meaning and purpose.

  • Autopilot happiness is about feelings and sensations, which are short-lived.

  • Meaning and purpose are a way of life.

  • A sense of meaning and purpose rises from behaving consistently in accordance with your deepest values.

Everyone wants to be happy, yet the pursuit of happiness is likely to disappoint, if not make us miserable. The pursuit of happiness as an end to itself can backfire, as familiarity lessens the sensory effects of the things that make us happy.

Happiness vs. Meaning, Purpose

As psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman points out, the experience of happiness is about feelings and sensations, which are short-lived. Reflecting on memories gives us a sense of whether we've lived a happy or unhappy life. But what we’re likely to recall depends on our current emotional state. If we’re feeling negative, most of our memories will be negative and not conducive to happiness.

Meaning and purpose are about motivation: what gets you out of bed in the morning. Meaning and purpose are a way of life, not how you feel. While we’re aware of being happy, meaning and purpose are noticeable only in their absence. It’s impossible to be happy for very long if your life lacks meaning and purpose.

A sense of meaning and purpose is a byproduct of value-creation. If you have a set of core values and stick to them, your life is more likely to have meaning and purpose. Building more meaning and purpose in your life requires acting on your values rather than on temporary feelings.

Well-being is a combination of (in order of psychological importance), meaning, purpose, health, efficacy, and happiness.

An important indicator of meaning, purpose, and well-being (and a good place to start getting more of them) is by loving yourself.

But loving yourself is a murky concept, without a clear meaning. “To love” is a transitive verb, requiring transaction, just as shaking hands is a transaction. You can shake your own hands, but no one would describe the gesture as "shaking hands." Similarly, to love is to give of yourself, and you can’t give of yourself to yourself.

Yet the term, “love yourself” has strong intuitive appeal. I believe the closest we can come to loving ourselves literally is to make ourselves feel lovable—able to love and be loved. Take a moment to think of those you have known who were lovable: abundantly loving and worthy of love.

It’s a safe bet you didn’t think of people who cared only about getting their needs met or folks who didn’t try to see others apart from their own feelings, desires, and egos.

You probably thought of people who were compassionate, kind, loving, and respectful, people whose humane values were bigger than their egos. Acting on humane values eliminates the guilt and shame that prevent genuine self-love.

The Love Yourself Quiz

I like myself better when I’m:

a) Improving situations
b) Blaming them on someone

I like myself better when I’m:

a) Valuing
b) Devaluing

I like myself better when I’m:

a) Understanding
b) Judgmental

I like myself better when I’m:

a) Compassionate
b) Resentful

I like myself better when I’m:

a) Kind to others
b) Getting others to do what I want

I like myself better when I’m:

a) Connecting to loved ones
b) Stonewalling them

I like myself better when I’m:

a) Appreciating loved ones
b) Complaining about them

I like myself better when I’m:

a) Protecting loved ones
b) Making them feel bad or afraid.

Behavior choices should be those that make us like ourselves better. Liking yourself is a necessary condition for loving yourself, and the quickest route to meaning, purpose, and well-being.

Source: Steven Stosny, Ph.D. June 20 2022;

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