“Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness has something to do with struggling, enduring, and accomplishing.” – George Sheehan
Sadness is not just a human problem. It is a problem shared by animals, and likely present since soon after the dawn of life. What sets us aside from most animals, with notable exceptions, is our ability to question our purpose. Humans, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy, see self actualisation as the pinnacle of aspiration. Disregarding the basics of food, shelter, love and ego, it is making a change to the world that matters to us most.
A Loss Of Purpose
‘Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress.; working hard for something we love is called passion.’ Simon Sinek, Author, Consultant and Motivational Speaker.
In a popular video, Simon Sinek explains that millennials find traditional jobs difficult as they feel that they are not making a change. And whilst this generation is blessed like no other, it is also the most sad. Information is made easy to find, health is at an all time high, and opportunities almost endless. And yet, within this machine of progress, the very cogs are rusting and breaking apart.
But as the world gets smaller, so do we. Instead of being the centre of our community, someone who seems to matter, we are just one of seven billion. We are saturated by news of the successes of others, taught to envy and idolise celebrities, and regard great thinkers with a theological awe. We are set against impossibly high standards, and it can seem fruitless to even try.
For a species that thrives on purpose, and achievement through it, this could not be more troubling.
Achievement Is Not Happiness
It is a common myth that achievement buys happiness. When you look at PhD students (as Psychologist Jordan Peterson explains,) they become sad, or even depressed, when they finally hand in their work. When you finish reading a book most often the thrill of the story dies, the elation of conclusion concluded. So why is it that when we work for something, its achievement leaves us hollow?
The answer may be something spiritual, cultural, biological, all or none. Religion teaches us to live as God would like, to aspire to holiness through his attribution. Spirituality promises unity between self and the universe, achievement through the dissolution of the delusion of separateness. Culture dictates that we must have the right job, make money, marry or have children. Biology rewards achievement with chemicals, and does so over and over. Each asks, with the caveat of some spiritual beliefs, that we attain a malleable goal that can be recorded.
And yet those of religious faith, spiritual leaders, great men and women and even animals at the top of their ecological niche will continue to want and to be sad. So there must be something else. Something you can’t hold, display or record.
Define who you are to find your purpose
You may not associate actor Matthew McConaughey with sage wisdom (a tragedy of media and preconceptions,) but in a 2017 speech to the University of Houston, he explains that the start of self actualisation is the deciding what you are not. He argues passionately that by actively addressing who you aren’t, you are only left with who you are. He said;
“The first step that leads to our identity in life is usually not “I know who I am,” but rather “I know who I am not.”
Finding identity is instrumental to happiness, as the true and honest realisation of who you are can open your mind to what you want. What you dream, and the purpose that you have. And by purpose I do not mean achievement, but the process of following that process with all you are and what you have to give. But first we can ask, what can you forget?
What you are is not a job. It is not a document, or a bank account. It is not your Facebook, your diet or your friends. These are just measurements we give ourselves to place value on our existence. But we exist in mind, and indeed purpose, regardless of these things. To live in the knowledge that you are following your purpose, that honest dream, stripped of all accolade, is the true process of self actualisation.
It does not require applause or award, the pleasure is in the doing.
Living with Purpose is the key to happiness.
We know that many creatures can feel sadness, and that achievement of a goal will not always bring happiness. We know that although our opportunities are unparalleled compared to any other time in history, depression is at its highest level. We know that who you are remains when all labels are removed, and that lesson is a Universal truth. So how can you find happiness by simply living?
The answer is to live true to your purpose. Find joy in the doing, regardless of the result. Reading a book is more pleasurable than finishing it, climbing a mountain more valuable than planting the flag, playing an instrument more challenging that listening back. Happiness is found when the future is forgotten, and the present is found joyful in its encapsulation of activity.
So instead of worrying about being great, remembered, rich or powerful, enjoy living toward your purpose without needing recognition. Whatever that may be.
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- Watch Matthew McConaughey’s speech to Houston University
- What makes you happy? Tell me in the comments or on Twitter.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. If you suffer from depression, or suspect that you may, please seek medical advice. Image courtesy of Aainlm