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Pursue Meaning, Not Happiness

As we wrap up focusing on January’s theme of change, we want to touch base on happiness. We are all about finding happiness, keeping happiness, and even training our brains to be happier. If you’ve figured anything out by now, it’s that being happy is really hard to do. Waking up happy and staying pretty happy feels almost impossible if you are emotional or easily affected by life around you. It’s being human and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The crazy thing is that we’ve been going about this all wrong. Here’s the revelation: Pursuing happiness only makes us more depressed and anxious. This is because we feel like we are forcing ourselves to feel and seek happiness when sometimes, it’s really hard to do in the first place.

That feeling of happiness is so fleeting and we are then constantly trying to find new stimuli to keep feeding that happiness. A new tube of lipstick brings happiness but for literally about a few days at best (minutes for some of us). Furthermore, some of us are not just naturally happy people, meaning that our baseline of emotions could be somewhere between “meh and ok” which is different from “content and joyful”. Again, this is also normal and it has to do with our genetics (Okbay, et al., 2016), temperament (Holder, & Klassen, 2009), and even where we live (i.e., crime rates, sense of safety, access to public services, sense of community, and other well-being related factors).

So, what’s a person to do? Research (Ford, et al., 2014) and motivational gurus (e.g., Brendon Burchard) have always talked about finding meaning or purpose in life and that will lead to happiness. But what’s that all even mean? Let’s take a look.

 

The Difference Between Purpose and Meaning

To avoid a philosophical discussion and for the sake of keeping things easy, here’s the difference. Having a purpose in life can be defined as a belief that you have a certain use or reason for existing. The meaning of life is the values associated with those beliefs.

Example: Brendon Burchard (he is our guru and motivation here at #TeamTeri)

Purpose: He often talks about his purpose in life being to serve as many people as possible, to help as many people to improve their lives to the best of his abilities.

Meaning: By exercising his purpose to the best of his abilities, he ends up finding his meaning of life to be defined as one filled with happiness, joy, and contentment.

 

How to Find Purpose & Meaning

You’ve probably been asking yourself this since you had the inkling that there’s more to life than just a random job, mundane routines, and posting photos on Instagram. It’s absolutely difficult to figure out what your purpose is and the only ways we can tell you how to find it is to try a bunch of different things you love, and one will eventually ignite such a fire in your belly unlike anything else ever has.

The key to trying out a bunch of different things is not to quit when the going gets tough. Half-assing a bunch of fun things isn’t the way to find your purpose, it’s seeing it through to the end and determining if it was worth the ride. So, whether it be something like opening a dog rescue, finding the cure for AIDS, or becoming the world’s best hand letterer, step one is to try. When you find a purpose, you end up feeling a huge sense of self-worth and that alone contributes significantly to happiness

 

It’s Not About You

OMG, what even? The kicker here is that when you are searching for your purpose in life, it’s not about you. It’s about something greater than you.

Initially, you will have to think about what you want to do, what would give your life meaning and make you feel happy and fulfilled, and so yes, that’s all about you. But, the purpose of finding purpose is also to do something that means more than what you want. Can it benefit other people? Other animals? The greater good of humanity?

Don’t you ever find yourself really focusing on something else, passing the time away, and all of a sudden you realize you need to take a breather, but sometimes, you’re also feeling pretty happy? Usually, this happens when you are helping someone else, doing work you love, volunteering, or doing anything besides thinking about yourself and what the world “owes” you.

 

Stop Comparing Yourself

The quickest way to defeat the purpose of finding your purpose is to compare yourself to someone who has a similar purpose. So if you see someone on Instagram with a mission to end animal abuse, don’t compare their journey to yours if helping animals is something you’re very interested in. They may be 500 steps ahead of you and you’re on step 2. As much as we talk about how different we all are and how we need different lip colors to suit our different skin tones, the same concept applies to your purpose in life.

If you want to be happy, quit comparing yourself to the person who’s already become an expert at hand lettering. Instead, learn from them and even try to get them to be your mentor. You’d be surprised how many people out there are willing to teach you something you want to become great at.

 

More Things to Consider

All the people who’ve found their purpose and are happy had worked long and tirelessly to get to where they are. Years or decades even. Don’t get discouraged and know that it may take some time. There will be drawbacks and days where you feel like quitting, but there are things you can do to keep your momentum going.

♦Find a good support group. Even if that support group is someone who can’t talk, their body is made of fur, and walks on four legs. Going at anything alone is a little sad and seriously not that fun.

♦Learn as much as you can, whenever you can. Remember that cheesy “The More You Know”, well turns out it’s not so cheesy. Knowledge is power and when you arm yourself with information, you’ll be less likely to get discouraged from the unknowns.

♦Have a general plan but know that things will change about a million times, so learn to be flexible. We’ve talked about setting goals and have provided you with worksheets on how to do that. Always keep sight of the bigger picture when the details try to drown you. It’s important to be detail-oriented, but don’t try to get hung up on them and know when to move forward.

♦Get a mentor. It’s easy as this: there’s someone who’s already done what you want to do, unless you are crazy original. But even then, there’s still someone who has done something kind of similar. Learn from them and their mistakes. If you want to do it all alone with no one’s else, then accept that there should be no one to blame or congratulate but yourself in the end. However, this goes against finding that purpose that’s much larger than you. A good mentor won’t steal your thunder or ideas, they actually want you to succeed and want to help guide you. Worse case scenario is to read biographies on successful people in the field you’re interested in to get an idea about their thought patterns and rational. Remember, success leaves clues that you can learn from.

♦Obviously, there will be “haters”. What’s the actual, proper word for these people, I don’t know. There will be people who want to bring you down, mock your purpose, mock you, and attack you. At the end of the day, you have to live your life and they can go live theirs. Try your best to ignore it and this is where a good mentor and support group can come in handy. When people try to bring you down, you need others to bring you up. It’s just the equilibrium of life.

♦Purpose can shift or change completely over time, depending on life experience. It’s ok to have a purpose today, then a new one later, and a new one after that. Most humans (besides the Dalai Lama) have multiple purposes over a lifetime. But for the here and now, you need to find a purpose you can work on for this week, month and/or year, if you want to have those feelings of happiness and fulfillment.

 

We hope these tips and words of encouragement will help jumpstart that purposeful fire in your belly and get you moving towards finding the meaning to your life. We want you to be happy and fulfilled this year, and for the rest of your life. The time is now to do something meaningful and purposeful, to get out of the mind-bending cycle of what-if’s, should have’s, could have’s, pettiness, comparisons, and basically wasting time over things that don’t matter.

 

References

Ford, B. Q., Shallcross, A. J., Mauss, I. B., Floerke, V. A., & Gruber, J. (2014). Desperately Seeking Happiness: Valuing Happiness is Associated With Symptoms and Diagnosis of Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33(10), 890-905.

Holder, M. D., & Klassen, A. (2009). Temperament and Happiness in Children.Journal of Happiness Studies, 11(4), 419-439.

Okbay, A., Baselmans, B.L., De Neve, J., et. al (2016). Genetic variants associated with subjective well-being, depressive symptoms, and neuroticism identified through genome-wide analyses. Nature Genetics, 48, 624–633.

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