On Why The Pursuit for Happiness Is Not Your Most Important Life Endevour

“What sets human beings apart from animals is not the pursuit of happiness, which occurs all across the natural world, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans”

– Ray Baumeister

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”

– Victor Frankl


Victor Frankl, one of my heroes, is a psychologist who survived Nazi concentration camps. He explains that the BIGGEST factor which determined survival in Nazi concentration camps was… meaning.Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 11.52.50 AM

I’ve just finished reading this fantastic article on the pursuit of meaning vs the pursuit of happiness.  “He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.” he writes.

When you think of the most “inspiring people”, this makes a heck of a lot of sense: Ghandhi, Mandela, Terry Fox, Mother Teresa etc, They have a powerful and very clear sense of purpose, of meaning. They tend to have more stress and actually LESS happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is about “feeling good”, filling a need/want. Researchers offer an evolutionary explanation: in order to satisfy hunger, you feel happy, therefore you’ll keep eating and not die! Animals can feel happiness as well. What seperates us from animals, is our pursuit for meaning.

In short : “Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a “taker” while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a “giver.

This is profound for me. I think I’ve been a taker of late, and I believe I know why. When I was working in Tajikistan in 2008, I was working for a higher sense of meaning to “rid the world of poverty”, only to be profoundly and deeply wounded by corruption, theft and greed in the international development sector. I was demoralized and I think I’ve been in self-preservation mode, working towards happiness and not focused on meaning. I feel I’ve been more of a taker, than a giver, and I want to move forward!  I want to contribute to making the world around me a better place.

“You use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.”

Where are you wanting to put your strengths and talents?

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