On Purpose, Fulfillment, and Why the Search for Happiness is a Lie
Do whatever makes you happy. Go and find what makes you happy. Happiness is out there waiting for you; you just need to find it. You only live once, so do what makes you happy.
While "they" certainly meant well, and gave you the above advice with the full sincerity of their heart and soul, what they told you was, is, and always will be, a lie. On this, the 71st anniversary of the 1944 D-Day Invasion and the day that Vice President Joe Biden is burying his son, I thought it appropriate to speak frankly on happiness vs. purpose and why I believe we're being led astray by well-intentioned friends, family, mentors and perhaps not so well-intentioned members of the media and free market.
We have been told ad nauseam that happiness is a pursuit, a quest of sorts, and that if one adheres to the search long enough will result in the eventual finding of said happiness, and that life will somehow come together in a climax of satisfaction and contentment at that very moment in time. From my neighbor Mr. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence to the media and market hype of modern day America, we are fed the lie daily that we must all be searching for happiness. If we cannot find this mysterious happiness, the market tells us we need to buy this thing, or more of that stuff. Our friends and family tell us to search longer, perhaps harder. Pop culture tells us that we'll find happiness in the latest and greatest fads and trends of the day. This show, that music, these faux lives in the latest "reality" drama and so forth... We simply need to be this, do that, and happiness is sure to follow.
Lies, all lies!
The search for happiness...is a myth. It is a lie, and in my humble opinion we are doing those we love a great disservice by insisting that they search for happiness. Happy/sad...happy/sad...our emotions of happy and sad are surface level, and these emotions ebb and flow with the tides of the day. That happens and we're sad. This happens and we're happy. Rain, sun, dogs eating our homework, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and so forth...the search for happiness is futile, and in my humble opinion those who find themselves caught in the endless search for happiness will keep right on searching until the end of their days.
Had I been present with Mr. Jefferson while writing the DOI, I would have insisted he use the term PURPOSE instead of happiness, and in turn the most important document in American history would have read:
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 Purpose.
The pursuit...of...purpose. Now THAT sounds as though it would be quite the noble cause indeed! It is purpose, a deep and lasting sense of the what and why of a person's life that drives men and women to achieve great heights. It is purpose that drove Gandhi, it is purpose that drove Mother Teresa, and it is purpose that drove Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to change the world. Not limited to the immortals of time, it is purpose that drives men and women the world over to be better husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers. Happiness is surface level, whereas purpose strikes a chord so deep one could argue its origins can be found in the double helix of our DNA itself!
In Ephesians 2:10 the Apostle Paul writes:
For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Created for happiness? Created for consumption? Created for Keeping Up With The Kardashians and so forth? That we are created for good works sounds as though Paul is talking purpose here, not the endless pursuit of surface level "happiness" that a multitude of Americans find themselves caught up in today. In a modern day example, legendary pastor Rick Warren wrote The Purpose Driven Life, not the happiness driven life!
For my friends who do not subscribe to the Christian philosophy, no worries, let me quote the great Neil deGrasse Tyson:
“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday, and lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.”
It appears to me that Tyson is talking purpose here, for he is surely not searching for happiness!
I urge you then, flee from the pursuit of happiness. Politely but firmly rebuke those who tell you to do what makes you happy. The "YOLO" culture of the 21st century is a disease, and far too many are afflicted. To live for self, in an endless search for happiness and personal satisfaction, will find you neither happiness nor satisfaction. Instead, find your purpose, for when you find true purpose, a deep, long-lasting sense of fulfillment, itself a far more noble goal than happiness, is sure to follow.