Many people tend to look at happiness as a far off destination that requires all of their aspirations to be met. Some people confuse happiness with pleasure and chase after it at all costs. Modern society has become enslaved by the perpetual pursuit of our physical desires. We're led to believe that once all our desires are met, we will be happy, yet happy people seem to be incredibly hard to find...
Viktor Frankl in his book Man's Search For Meaning describes a different perspective on success and happiness which stems from purpose rather than pleasure:
"success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself..."
Frankl argues that happiness is a result of a purpose-driven life. How many of us wake up each morning and think of the larger purpose of which we are apart? How many of us instead wake up each morning and think of all that we want and how little time we have to gain it?
We have little freedom to pursue a greater purpose in life when we are perpetually focused on acquiring things and seeking validation from others. Our inability to focus on purpose and meaning distances us from the experience of long-term happiness—the happiness which comes naturally as a side effect of living a purpose-driven life, one that is filled with loving and caring for others.
Imagine a world where businesses were more concerned with empowering people to live better lives than with making quarterly profits. What if we all recognized the importance that purpose plays in the quality of our lives and did all we could do to find it? What if our perpetual pursuit was of a higher purpose, rather than the fulfillment of our desires?
The road to happiness is not achieving success or having enough things, it is not productivity or affirmation from others. The road to happiness is a life of purpose where our desires extend far beyond meeting our own needs and into the rich world of service to others.
This concept is not a shallow treatise aimed at privileged people in the modern world. Viktor Frankl did not test his life work on subjects in a leather armchair. He lived in 1940's Europe. He and his philosophies survived the Holocaust. The context for his ideology was Auschwitz. It was in the prison camps that he found purpose and meaning in his life and lived to help others do the same. He argued that “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'” and his life's work proved it so.
Frankl was on a mission to help his fellow man find meaning—meaning even in the darkest of suffering. It was this mission that helped him survive the concentration camps and it was this mission that helped others do the same.
So if a purpose-driven life helped Frankl and many others survive the Holocaust, how can it change our lives and the lives of the ones we love?
I think it can change everything.
As an adolescent I failed to find purpose and meaning in my life. School seemed like a massive waste of time where all the minds of our generation were being funneled through the system in order to stand tall, stay in line, obey instructions and memorize—memorize—memorize!
The more I pondered how meaningless and ridiculous it was, the more I fell prey to the pursuit of my desires. I was enslaved to my desires and the worst part was that I thought I was free.
When I realized that my appetite for desires was growing and my satisfaction diminishing, I knew something was wrong. Getting everything I wanted when I wanted it didn't make me happy at all. I began questioning the answers I'd written to life's biggest questions:
Why am I here? What's wrong with this world and what can I do to fix it?
I found purpose in asking those questions and I found deep satisfaction in beginning to answer them. It was as if I had life's mysteries figured out, just simply by questioning them. I stopped nodding my head and started questioning everything.
The pursuit of better answers to life's biggest questions was my first glimpse of purpose. My purpose grew as my awareness of self increased. I look back and reflected upon all that I was and all that I had done and realized that I lived much of my life pretending to be someone I was not—and I did so such that I could be affirmed by others, and be safe when I was rejected, because the person they were rejecting really wasn't me at all...
I began to see my suffering in the context of the world's suffering. I began to see my privilege in the context of the world's privilege. I became thankful for all that I'd been given. I saw the gifts and talents I'd belittled from a young age. I looked in the mirror and smiled for once.
In short, searching for meaning set me free. I couldn't see the transformation at the time, but the journey to find meaning made me happy—it gave me a sense of purpose, a purpose I wanted to share with the world.
Here I am nearly seven years later writing about purpose as a road to happiness. In the seven years since I started searching for meaning I've lived more fully and experienced more joy than in all the years of my life combined. I've followed my passions to the edges of the earth. I've poured my heart, mind and soul into all that I do. I've failed. I've fallen in love. I've saved peoples lives. People have saved mine...
While this may not be a recipe for happiness, it might just be an open door that will lead towards a happier, more fulfilling life. Ask yourself, "Why am I here? What's wrong with the world and what can I do to fix it?"
If you end up with some exciting answers to that question, I'd love to hear it and do whatever I can to help your answers grow. We live in a world where a simple solution to a real problem can become a global phenomenon. Technology has empowered us to solve problems like never before.
So lets stop chasing after things and start searching for meaning. Lets stop obsessing over profits and productivity and start enjoying life and serving others. Lets start to answer life's biggest questions together and see if we don't love life while we're doing it.