Spoiler: there's more to your fulfilment than being happy
If you’re a die-hard Hamilton fan like me, you’ll recognise this phrase from Jefferson’s cabinet battle. You might remember the Will Smith film of the same name. If you’re more historically-minded, you’ll know it is of course part of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
What a grand ideal.
But what does it mean? Have we achieved it? What is a pursuit of happiness? Do we ever get there?
I would argue that the hope behind this time-honoured phrase is significantly deeper and wider than a few likes on social media, a new pair of shoes, or even a new kitchen extension. Arianna Huffington seems to agree that we have missed the point. “Happiness today has been reduced to instant gratification. We search for ‘happy hours’ that leave us stumbling through life; we devour ‘Happy Meals’ that barely nourish the body; we believe the ads that tell us that there is a pill for every ill, and that happiness is just a tablet away.”
So how do we move past happy meals, happy hours, happy days, or a happy holiday?
There’s a Greek word that I have come across recently which I think should replace the use of the word ‘happiness.’
This is one of those tricky-to-translate words (I like these). The best we can do involves the concept of human flourishing and contentment. The idea of a ‘good soul’. So, if we are looking towards our contentment and our purpose, and how to fully flourish, is it possible that this won’t always constitute happiness? I think so. It may be a regular by-product, but it’s not the final destination.
This is the important truth here.
You can be flourishing, in a state of contentment, fulfilling a sense of purpose without feeling continually happy.
You can also have feelings of happiness but a gnawing ache that comes from being without purpose and direction.
Arguably the best moments in life come when both of these things align.
sense of purpose + a sense of happiness = highlight
But it’s not realistic to think that life looks like this all the time – we cannot think that all the purposeful and fulfilling things that we do will make us happy. Because oftentimes they don’t (Have a look at this video if you want to find out more).
So, the main question I want to leave you with today, are you pursuing eudaimonia, and the opportunity to reframe those more challenging moments in the light of a more fulfilling goal, or, if you’re honest with yourself, is hedonism the focus right now? Hedonism seeks pleasure and avoids suffering. Honestly, although this sounds great on face value, it’s not the answer for a fulfilled life (watch or read The Beach for a deeper look into this concept if you’re not convinced).
Before I go, I must admit (and you probably know this by now) that as much as I enjoy a deep question like this, I can’t leave you hanging without any advice as to how to pursue eudaimonia. So here’s a few thoughts to get you going.
So here’s a few thoughts to get you going:
💭 Look for the connection to your life’s core purpose(s)
When doing something mundane, exhausting, or something you would rather not be doing (we talked about this a lot last week) – see the connection to your life’s key purpose. If you can’t find the connection, then maybe it’s something you shouldn’t be investing your time in. (No. This is not an excuse not to empty the dishwasher).
💭 Know your life goals and write a purpose statement
This isn’t straightforward but there’s some great resources out there to help with this (try Victor Stretcher’s book, Life on Purpose – I did a book review on my socials last week). I’m also working on something really exciting related to this…
💭 Know your Strengths
The CliftonStrengths profile is an unbelievable tool in helping you to uncover your Strengths. 24 million people have already done it – I highly recommend you join them.
💭Once you know your Strengths, develop them
Set yourself actions so that you don’t just know what you’re good at – you become brilliant at it. Then, aim them towards your life goals.
💭 Know your values and live according to them
We can find ourselves choosing jobs and lifestyles that sound good but just aren’t aligned with our values. We all know people who enjoy their pay packets and very little else. Is that what you want to feel about where you spend 90,000 hours of your life?
💭 Do something for the benefit of others
There is so much evidence of the connection between well-being and others (take a look at Well-Being by Tom Rath). Find something that aligns with your values and your Strengths, and give it away. Good for you, and good for them.
I hope that gives you some food for thought. If you feel a little stuck right now, I have designed a free 5-day challenge looking at the concept of your purpose in the everyday. Follow this link to get it straight to your inbox.
Let’s pursue something more than just happy meal happiness*.
*sometimes I totally approve of the Happy Meal happiness.