How to be Happy, Really
Why "do as you please" never brings true happiness
Happiness isn’t eating plump figs in the south of France, hallucinating at Burning Man, binge-watching Netflix, or playing a good round of golf. Happiness is the pursuit of purpose, done individually and with a community:
Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself.
―Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
Why have we invested so much into meaning-seeking and policy-making when none of it brings us closer to happiness? Why are we still so unhappy despite practicing positivity, mindfulness, and meditation? Perhaps we’ve gotten our priorities upside down:
What we’re pursuing isn’t happiness anymore. We’ve mistaken temporary highs for lasting happiness. Some things were never meant to be the end goal in themselves: Financial power, sexual compatibility, emotional catharsis, to name a few, are all important and they make us feel good—but none of these bring lasting happiness if they themselves become the object of pursuit. This kind of idolatry results in what psychologists describe as the hedonic treadmill and what coastal elites call the rat race.
We’ve lost sight of our target, confused the means with the end, and created a Frankenstein-styled happiness that is solely cosmetic and ends up destroying its creator, the self. We can put all the right pieces together—a beautiful lover, a vacation, a(nother) successful startup, a shiny car, a year of living abroad—and still feel unhappy. We can have everything yet still feel like there is something missing.
So, what is the end that we should seek? What does Frankl mean by a greater cause? Why and how exactly does pursuing purpose make us happy?
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