Happiness, And How To Find It

Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to “be happy”. One the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically…

…Once an individual’s search for meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering

Viktor Frankl

Everybody wants to spend the majority, if not all, of their time in a state of happiness. Which stands to reason. Releasing those pent-up endorphins and experiencing genuine happiness is one of the most powerful feelings available to all of us. In that time during which we are happy, our mood and mindset is positive, the world is a wonderful place and nothing can bring us down. But how do we find genuine, lasting happiness?

Social media and marketers constantly bombard us with messages about the products or holidays which we need in order to be happy. So we fall into the trap, buy their stuff, become happy for a while, but then we see something better which we want. So the happiness wears off and we need to spend more money buying more stuff. All this leads to is a situation where we have lots of stuff, but a lack of money, and feeling anything but happy.

We also seek happiness with other people, which is a dangerous game to play. At its worst we find ourselves compromising our beliefs and values just to be accepted by others.

Increasingly, though, people are turning to self-help books. These books claim to offer us the blueprint to happiness, the shortcuts to success and the guide we need so that we can start living the life of our dreams right now. Well marketed but lacking any real substance, most of these are best avoided. There are some exceptions to the rule, though, and I would highly recommend the work of Tony Robbins among others.

The above, however, is all a lie. Permanent happiness and an easy life is a myth. Life is often referred to as a rollercoaster ride, and I couldn’t agree more. Life is not straightforward, and it doesn’t follow a formula, but it has ups and downs, twists and turns. That’s what makes it so exciting. The experiences. The good times give us pleasure, joy, happiness and good memories. The bad times teach us valuable lessons. It’s important to embrace both equally.

Happiness, then, is not about material goods or fitting in with people who are not right for you. It certainly won’t be found in a “how to” book. After all, we are all different, with different hopes, dreams, strengths, weaknesses and drives. Happiness is internal. Only you can make yourself happy, and you do this through your own perspective; how you view the world and your place in it.

This is why it’s important that you become clear on your life’s purpose and the reason why you are here today. We are not put on this Earth just to waft aimlessly through life before fading away, like a fart. Each of us has their own contribution to make and their mark to leave on the world. It could be that you make your impact as a spouse and parent, raising, supporting and providing for a family of your own. Or, you may be destined to make your mark in the art world, the music industry or in business. Or perhaps philanthropy, conservation, politics…

Reflect on who you are, what you want from life, what you hope to achieve, what your strengths are, where your weaknesses lie, what you value and where your priorities lie. This will help you to identify your purpose. This will give meaning to your life, and once your life has meaning, it all makes sense. A life with meaning is more focused, as your thoughts and actions become geared towards living in accordance with your purpose and working towards it. Most of all, though, when you have a purpose and your life has a meaning, you experience true happiness which lasts. And it doesn’t cost a a thing.

Happiness need not involve spending a penny. It’s not about having nice things and lots of money. In fact, some of the happiest people you will ever meet are those that have the least. They are happy, however, because their life has a meaning. They know what they want and are striving towards it. They also know that when things go wrong and they suffer, they are going through hell for a reason. For instance, parents will gladly endure whatever hardships life can throw at them, for the sake of their children. And a husband will endure a job which he hates but pays well, so that his wife can work part-time while raising their children. They are happy because their life has a reason. In the same way, a struggling actor or actress will juggle several jobs and live hand-to-mouth while performing in small productions. They will struggle in this manner and remain happy, because they know that this is all helping to get them closer to where they really want to be in life – Hollywood. Essentially, when your life has a meaning, even the most challenging of times can be a source of happiness.

If you want to be really happy, genuinely and deeply happy, figure out what your life’s meaning or purpose is. Once you have determined this, live according to it. That’s the formula which works. It takes hard, introspective, soul searching and reflection but in the end it’s all worthwhile as your perspective shifts and your quality of life improves for the better.

Purpose Or Pleasure, Which Do You Choose?

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him

Viktor Frankl ~ Man’s Search For Meaning

If I had to pick one book to take with me on a desert island, there is a clear winner. Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Many books claim to be life-changing but they rarely are. They fire us up and fill us with energy and enthusiasm, but as they can sometimes lack anything of real value to take away, they are soon forgotten after we’ve finished reading. This book, however, is the exception. Frankl actually had the manuscript prepared before the outbreak of World War 2, only to lose it on arrival at Auschwitz. Written in the aftermath of World War 2 and drawing on his personal experiences and observations, it’s powerful, moving and gives you plenty to reflect on.

This, however, is not a book review. I do believe, though, that this book should be read by everybody at some point in their lives. Viktor Frankl’s work is a timely reminder that we don’t have to continue living in this Freudian manner which can be so damaging, but that there is a better way.

According to Sigmund Freud, we live our lives according to the pleasure principle (German: Lustprinzip). What this means is that our natural tendency is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This is the purpose that we attach to our lives. We want as much pleasure as possible, and as little pain, in order to satisfy all of our biological and psychological needs.

If you want to see Freud’s pleasure principle in action, just look around you. You can’t miss it. It’s in the quick-fix diet and exercise plans which are yours for 3 easy installments of £100. It’s in the seminars, books and training programmes which promise to make millionaires of us without any formal training or experience.

These quick fixes and shortcuts only gain any attention or popularity because people are desperate to believe in them. People would rather pay whatever it takes to skip the blood, sweat and tears and skip straight to the positive results. They want the good stuff (the pleasure) while avoiding the pain (hard work and consistent effort) as much as possible. So, with a horde of lazy, impatient, gullible pleasure seekers desperately hunting for a quick fix or a shortcut to success, there will always be a receptive audience for the well marketed but baseless diet, exercise or financial success plan.

Social media has only worsened the situation. Seeing pictures of people’s perfect lives fills us with envy. We want what they have and now. And when we do get it, we are never satisfied because we want more. We want it now and don’t want to wait. So, we turn to credit cards and loans in order to buy things which we don’t want or need, just so that we can experience some momentary pleasure. Life just becomes a vicious cycle of seeking pleasure, getting what we want and then seeking more. And when we don’t get what we want, we become downbeat and disheartened.

Living according to the Freudian pleasure principle is dangerous. It robs you of so much of life’s richness and beauty. First of all, pleasure is a short-lived sensation. We lose sight of what is important in our lives and chase things, experiences and people. We get what we want, we experience a high, and then this wears off and we need something new to chase. If we fall short of what we want, this can be very damaging to our confidence. So, life becomes an emotional rollercoaster.

Secondly, we miss out on all that life has to teach us. When we strive for something, work tirelessly for it and fight our way through all of the challenges, we learn an awful lot about who we are and what we are capable of. We learn what works and what doesn’t. We learn what we are good at, and what areas we need to work on. We learn about what we hold important. Plus, when we do achieve positive results after working hard and struggling through difficult times, the positive boost we receive is long lasting. We grow in confidence as well as experience and gain the courage to strive for more challenging goals. Life is all about experiences and personal and professional growth, but this is soon lost sight of when we choose to live according to the pleasure principle.

This is why Frankl’s work is more important now than ever. Instead of living as hedonistic pleasure seekers, we should instead focus on the determining the meaning of our lives.

  • What is your purpose?
  • What is your “why”?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • What is the endpoint which you striving towards? What do you hope to chieve or become by the end of the process?

Theses are all variations of the same question, and it is a question which is being increasingly asked in business and personal development literature. That is not enough, though, as it is something that we should all consider. When you determine what you hold dear in life, and what it is that you are striving for, life becomes clearer. You have something to aim for, and you are prepared to endure any hardship in order to achieve it.

Having a purpose in life, and working towards it, is healthy not just for us as individuals but also for our friends and families and society too. We become more focused and less insecure. We stop becoming so materialistic. The sense of competition with, and judgement of, others stops. Instead of judging what others have and trying to outdo them, we realise that everyone is on their own individual journey and that we should help each other rather than putting each other down.

Having a meaning or purpose in life is also a celebration of our individuality. My meaning will be different to yours, because we are different people with different drives, wants, needs, priorities and values. You won’t find your meaning in a book, but through honest reflection instead. It’s a reminder to be yourself, focus on what is important in your life and stop compromising your values in order to fit in with certain groups.

A happy, successful and fulfilled life is one with meaning and a purpose. What is yours?

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.
~Friedrich Nietzsche