What makes people happy? Happiness may seem elusive, but it shouldn’t be really. Here are what some experts have to say….
The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus devoted his life to identifying what makes people happy. What he discovered is that people generally make three mistakes regarding their pursuit to happiness:
Mistake 1: Believing romantic/sexual relationship will create happiness
Mistake 2: Believing money will lead to happiness
Mistake 3: An obsession with luxury
According to Epicurus, what does leads to happiness is:
1: Friendships and regular contact with them
2: Working at a job that gives one a sense of making a difference/contributing
3: Finding a state of calm from within (see here for my blog on Mindfulness: https://blacksheepcounselling.com/2017/05/mindfulness-shmindfulness/)
Renowned Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl, a man who survived a Nazi concentration camp and lost most of his family, including his pregnant wife, believed that meaningfulness matters more than happiness. Frankl asserted that it is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.
What Frankl noticed during his time in the concentration camp was that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. In Frankl’s writings he stated that those in the camps that were able to find meaning were far more resilient than those who did not.
Meaning of course varies between individuals. Many find meaningfulness in being a parent. Another may find meaning and purpose in gardening, or cooking, or creating art, or writing, or engineering, or athletics, or volunteering, or cleaning up garbage. Meaningfulness is what fuels you – it need not be something on the entire world’s radar, just something in your world.
Interestingly, the American Center for Disease Control suggests that 40% of Americans do not think their lives have a clear sense of meaning or purpose, and this is having adverse effects on overall wellbeing, life satisfaction, mental and emotional health. Having purpose and meaning in life counters these negative effects, as well as enhances resiliency and self-esteem and decreases depression and anxiety.
A recent study by the Journal of Positive Psychology determined that happiness without meaning is characterized as shallow and self-absorbed (identified as being a “taker”) whereas, meaningfulness and purpose is characterized by connection with others (just as Epicurus posited), and correlates with being a “giver”.
If you are seeking happiness, you may wish to spend more times with friends, find a way to contribute in this world, find a sense of peace and calm within you, and follow your passion!
For more on Epicurus, watch this fascinating video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg_47J6sy3A#action=share
For more on the wisdom of Viktor Frankl, I highly recommend his book: