Purpose, Meaning and Happiness in Life

I want to find the Purpose, Meaning and Happiness in life.

Positive psychology research suggests that Happiness and Meaning are essential for the wellbeing. Is this the purpose? May be not every time.

The pursuit of happiness and meaning are two of our most central motivations in life. Happiness and meaning are strongly co-related to one another. The more meaning we find in life, the more happy we typically feel, and the more happy we feel, the more we feel encouraged to pursue even greater meaning and purpose. 

People with more meaningful lives opined that relationships were more important. They would help people because it was meaningful to them. Happiness was related more to satisfy the needs of the individual. The purpose was therefore, based on what one perceives and focuses on.

“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” – Joseph Campbell

Relationship between Purpose, Meaning and Happiness

  1. People with meaningful lives value relationships more.
  2. Helping people is meaning and not happiness
  3. Meaning can have a purpose and also cognitive processing component
  4. Meaningfulness is derived from giving to other people; happiness comes from what they give to you, In other words, spending time with friends was linked to happiness more than meaning, whereas spending more time with loved ones was linked to meaning but not happiness.

Happiness is a byproduct of knowing one’s purpose and applying it in a tangible way providing meaning to one’s life. Happiness is related to one’s needs.

To illustrate, parents feel happy with the arrival of a baby into their lives. This happiness is related to meaning because, otherwise, the happiness would vanish while dealing with a ‘Colic’ baby.

Happiness cannot be related to external factors. Case in point: if I get a bonus I would be happy does not last long. According to research doubling the salary/ annum increases happiness by only 9%. Therefore, health and wealth are related to happiness, but not to meaning.

So pursuing meaning is a better option. Try to connect dots between efforts and purpose.

Psychologist Michael Plant says:

‘If you look at what people actually do to be happier, it seems nearly everyone tries to change the external facts: we try to become richer, thinner, more successful, to find a better house in a nicer area, and so on. A few of us think about trying to spend less time working, and more time on hobbies or with friends and family. Almost no one thinks about actively retraining the way they think. In fact, I don’t think this last idea even crosses most of our minds.’

What does meaningful life mean?

In positive psychology, a meaningful life is a construct having to do with the purpose, significance, fulfilment, and satisfaction of life. There are two common aspects: a global schema to understand one’s life and the belief that life itself is meaningful.

Meaningful activities generate positive emotions and deepen social connections, both of which increase our satisfaction with life. Pursuing meaning makes you feel good about yourself because you are pursuing something bigger than yourself.

What is The Meaning of Life?

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” – Leo Tolstoy

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” – Viktor Frankl

Aristotle said, Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” For him and most of his contemporaries, happiness referred not to an emotion but the long-term pattern of action, the sum of which was your moral character. It is the habits of virtue that are acquired over years of exercising the appropriate virtues.

A person doesn’t feel happy as much as happiness is a general state of being.

Narcissus drowned in his own reflection because, he didn’t have space for anybody else other than himself. Happiness is contingent upon love and relationships.

When we reflect upon good times, we glance back at happy times. So, happiness is closely related to the meaning in life.

How do you find a purpose in your life? 

 Viktor E. Frankl experienced the depths of human misery in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Soon after the war, he wrote Man’s Search for Meaning and described the degrading and dehumanizing conditions prisoners experienced. Through pain and suffering he found a purpose in life.

Gandhi was thrown out of the train in South Africa and that became a defining moment for him and he found a purpose in his life and India got its freedom.

Can an average individual find a purpose in life? To illustrate:  The lady in question had been fit, and did not have any ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure and similar old age-related diseases until she was diagnosed with a debilitating disease – Parkinsons. She went into a depression. Several weeks passed by and she slowly came to terms with her life. The turning point was the quote “ I cried for a pair of shoes till I came across a man with no feet”. That triggered her into writing a book using all her experiences.

“You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing and dance, and write poems and suffer and understand, for all that is life”.

There is an interesting anecdote which explains the concept of the world reflecting one’s thoughts. The philosopher Socrates was sitting outside the city gates of Athens when a man comes up to him. The man says: ‘I am thinking of moving to Athens. What is it like living here?’ Socrates looks up and asks him: ‘I would gladly tell you but answer me one question: what is it like where you live now?’ The man replied: ‘Terrible! The people are back-stabbers and thieves. I will be leaving no friends behind me – only enemies.’ Socrates frowned and replied, ‘Well, you had best be on your way because you will only find the same thing here in Athens.’

Later a second man approached who was also considering moving to Athens. Once again the old philosopher asked him about his experience of his home town. The man smiled and said, ‘Where I come from the people all work together and help each other. Kindness is everywhere and you are always treated with respect.’ ‘Welcome to Athens,’ smiled Socrates, ‘you will find the same thing here.’ Socrates knew that our mindset determines our experience of the world and he recognised that both men would carry their habitual attitudes, perceptions and ways of interacting with them. It was the way they processed information and biases in their thinking that were likely to dictate the quality of their lives just as much as the nature of their surroundings.

To conclude I quote” As a ship that is lost at sea without a compass, so the man without the perception of the goal which is constant and eternal is lost in this world of confusion. As the captain of a ship establishes the destination of his vessel and by the compass is able to guide his course through stormy nights and dark waters, so the man who has knowledge of his goal can guide his life by that compass of understanding. If an individual is unhappy, discontented, dissatisfied, then the world around him is in sorrow, discontent and ignorance. If the individual has not found his goal, the world will not find its goal”. Jiddu Krishnamurti

Related questions:

Question: We live, but we do not know why. To so many of us, life seem  to have no meaning. Can you tell us the meaning and purpose of our living?

Answer: This question about the purpose of life is put only by those who do not love. Love can be found only in action, which is relationship. – J Krishnamurthy

Question: Can purpose increase happiness?

Answer: We can increase our happiness in several ways, one way is to seek out purpose and meaning:

Published by Dr. Pramila Kudva

I am a teacher educator currently worrking as a Principal of a reputed school in North Mumbai, have more than 30 years of experience, with several publications to my credit and have authored a book -"From chalk to Talk The Art of Teaching.

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