Pleasure and purpose are two driving forces behind happiness. However, sometimes the pursuit of gratification interferes with living a meaningful life. Many of us find happiness in doing whatever feels good; we eat delicious food, watch our favorite TV programs or indulge in whatever activity gives us satisfaction. There is nothing wrong with doing things that make you feel good—unless you are driven mindlessly toward attaining pleasure. There is far more to happiness than pure hedonism; for every bit of pleasure in your life, there ought to be purpose as well.
Let’s get real. Late in your life, how will you look back on what you’ve accomplished? Were your days spent thoughtlessly chasing pleasure after pleasure? Or did you live your life contributing to a greater good with a clear and benevolent purpose? If these questions are difficult to answer, don’t despair. There are many ways to add purpose and meaning to your life. In the end, an appropriate balance between occasional self-indulgence and a thoughtful life perspective will make your life very well-lived.
Think of others first. It’s not all about you! Ironically, focusing only on your own happiness can be detrimental to your wellbeing. Find the hidden joy in caring for others. You may feel resistant to this idea, thinking that if you don’t care for yourself, nobody will. In truth, you may be most happy when you forget about your own welfare and focus your love and attention on the needs of others. Indeed, volunteering to serve those in need is related to both mental and physical health1. The unique satisfaction of helping others may give you a critical happiness boost.
Know your motivation. What determines your daily behavior? Are you driven to work for material gain or avoid the disapproval of others? Or are you guided by inner purpose? Ideally, your hobbies, social life and even your career should reflect your true interests and values. Although you may not personally endorse all of your daily commitments and responsibilities, make sure at least one thing you do each day serves a profound purpose in your life. Research shows that you are more likely to reach goals that reflect your interests and principles, compared to goals that reflect the wishes of someone else2. Indeed, identifying the reasons behind our daily behavior can make us happier and more successful.
1Thoits, P. A., & Hewitt, L. N. (2001). Volunteer work and well-being. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 42, 115-131. 2Sheldon, K. M. & Houser-Marko, L. (2001). Self-concordance, goal- attainment, and the pursuit of happiness: Can there be an upward spiral? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 152-165. 3Nix, G. A., Ryan, R. M., Manly, J. B., & Deci, E. L. (1999). Revitalization through self-regulation: The effects of autonomous and controlled motivation on happiness and vitality. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 266-284.
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