What do you want out of life? You’ve been asked this so many times that it may sound trite, but the answer is at the core of everything we think, say, and do. We are wholly motivated by our own ambitions and aims. But what are they, exactly?
Our innermost selves are moved by the desire to be happy. It transcends gender, age, race, nationality, and even religion. Everyone wants to feel good. Everyone wants to be happy.
The pursuit of (anything but) happiness
The pursuit of happiness is so important that even the founding fathers, a group of men from two and a half centuries ago, acknowledged its value. The Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But that pursuit is different for everyone. Many derive satisfaction from accomplishments or accolades. Others find happiness in food or material things. It’s why billion dollar companies like Coke-a-Cola have the slogan: “Open a coke, open happiness.” This pursuit of possessions is why retail, even high-end retail, is thriving. Countless luxury retailers have reported significant growth since the pandemic downturn of 2020. And who can forget Carrie Bradshaw's go-to pick-me-up for instant happiness? New Manolos, of course! Joy is universal. We all want to feel joyous, which means we’re all chasing the same thing. But happiness will never be found in accomplishments—or the things we eat and buy.
So how do we find happiness?
A recipe for happiness
According to social scientist and happiness expert Arthur Brooks, there are three “macronutrients” of happiness. They are satisfaction, enjoyment, and meaning. So all you need are those simple ingredients, and boom, you're happy, right?
Most get satisfaction, enjoyment, and meaning from personal accomplishments, a successful career, or financial gain. But even these, although necessary, will only get you so far. They may fulfill you for a day for a week, but their luster quickly wears off, and you’re right back where you were before you achieved your goals in the first place.
Why? Because even though these accomplishments are gratifying, their effects are temporary. We set a goal, meet it, and then use the satisfaction to propel us to the next big thing.
We toil to continuously attain and achieve new goals. Because as soon as one gets checked off the list, we set another and put ourselves on an endless hamster wheel of accomplishment. In doing so, we brush aside true happiness to instead pursue empty, temporary fulfillment.
When you look back at all that you’ve done in your life, can you honestly say the times you were stuck on the hamster wheel were worth it?
I can already tell you that the answer is no. Because sacrificing long-term happiness for short-term gain can have pretty dire consequences. Not only does this approach set a dangerous pace for your life, but it also leaves purpose and passion at the door in pursuit of projects instead.
Chasing projects and goals offers only fleeting happiness. So what about the kind that lasts? Realistically, the only way to find true happiness is to find your purpose—even if that purpose isn’t fixed.
The pursuit of purpose
Finding your purpose is no easy task. But when you know what you’re meant for and actively pursue that purpose, you’ll inevitably lead a more intentional life.
And that’s where happiness really lies—living each moment with intention. Not allowing the minutes of your life to tick by without acknowledging their inherent significance.
Think about your fondest memories. I’d venture a guess that very few of them have to do with career milestones or attaining material possessions. Your most precious moments probably involve time spent with loved ones. These experiences and memories sustain you because they bring joy when you think of them—the kind of happiness you can tap into forever.
Maybe you have a desire to serve others, you’re seen as a valuable confidant, or you’re a source of comedy in an all-too-serious world. Whatever it is for you, you’ll find elements of your purpose in those moments. When you know your purpose, you can readily embrace times of true joy when they happen, knowing they’re all too fleeting.
Think about the most precious people in your life. Are you pursuing happiness by cultivating memories and experiences with them? Tomorrow isn’t promised. To find what brings you happiness, create lasting memories that hold effervescent joy.
I can’t stand before you today and proclaim that I’ve mastered this. Far from it, in fact. But I do know that you’ll feel more fulfilled and complete when you’re motivated by the pursuit of your purpose rather than the acquisition of mere possessions or professional titles.. The courage to pursue deep connections with others rather than projects. The wisdom to prioritize personal growth over prowess.
I wish this for myself, and I wish it for you, too. Live with intention. Savor life’s moments. Understand your purpose. Find joy.