Happiness as a subject is something that deeply intrigues me. To attempt to understand, the root nature of what makes us happy, our existence, and all that other stuff that goes along with it. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on these points and read a lot of different texts on the subject; from eastern and western philosophy, scientific, religious etc.
It really is a subject I find incredibly difficult to grasp.
This was a small article that I came across the other day - again it’s no sure answer, but it is at least another perspective; and one that I at least found to be quite contemplative (I’ve edited it down a bit just to focus the article a touch more on what I found to be of the most value)
For the longest time, I believed that there’s only one purpose in life: And that is to be happy. Right? Why else go through all the pain and hardship? It’s to achieve happiness in some way. And I’m not the only person who believed that. In fact, if you look around you, most people are pursuing happiness in their lives.
That’s why we collectively buy stuff we don’t need, stay with people we don’t love, and try to work hard to get the approval of people we don’t like.
Why do we do these things? To be honest, I don’t care what the exact reason is. I’m not a scientist. We are who we are. Let’s just accept that. Most people love to analyze why people are not happy or don’t live fulfilling lives. I don’t necessarily care about the why. I care more about how we can change.
Just a few short years ago, I did everything to chase happiness.
- You buy something, and you think that makes you happy.
- You hook up with people, and think that makes you happy.
- You get a well-paying job you don’t like, and think that makes you happy.
- You go on holiday, and you think that makes you happy.
But at the end of the day, you’re lying in your bed (alone or next to your spouse), and you think: “What’s next in this endless pursuit of happiness?” Well, I can tell you what’s next: You, chasing something random that you believe makes you happy. It’s all a façade. A hoax. A story that’s been made up.
But here’s the thing: How do you achieve happiness? Happiness can’t be a goal in itself. Therefore, it’s not something that’s achievable. I believe that happiness is merely a by-product of usefulness. When I talk about this concept with friends, family, and colleagues, I always find it difficult to put this into words. But I’ll give it a try here. Most things we do in life are just activities and experiences.
- You go on holiday.
- You go to work.
- You go shopping.
- You have drinks.
- You have dinner.
- You buy a car.
Those things should make you happy, right? But they are not useful. You’re not creating anything. You’re just consuming or doing something. And that’s great. Don’t get me wrong. I love to go on holiday or go shopping sometimes. But to be honest, it’s not what gives meaning to life. What really makes me happy is when I’m useful. When I create something that others can use. Or even when I create something I can use.
For the longest time I found it difficult to explain the concept of usefulness and happiness. But when I recently ran into a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the dots finally connected.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
And I didn’t get that before I became more conscious of what I’m doing with my life. And that always sounds heavy and all. But it’s actually really simple. It comes down to this: What are you DOING that’s making a difference? Did you do useful things in your lifetime? You don’t have to change the world or anything. Just make it a little bit better than before you were born. If you don’t know how, here are some ideas:
- Help your boss with something that’s not your responsibility.
- Take your mum to a spa.
- Create a collage with pictures (not a digital one) for your spouse.
- Write an article about the stuff you learned in life.
- Help the pregnant lady who also has a 2-year old with her stroller.
- Call your friend and ask if you can help with something.
- Start a business and hire an employee and treat them well.
That’s just some stuff I like to do. You can make up your own useful activities. You see? It’s not anything big. But when you do little useful things every day, it adds up to a life that is well lived. A life that mattered. The last thing I want is to be on my deathbed and realize there’s zero evidence that I ever existed.
A different mindset, and that’s what’s needed. Being useful is a mindset. And like with any mindset, it starts with a decision. One day I woke up and thought to myself: What am I doing for this world? The answer was nothing. And that same day I started writing. For you it can be painting, creating a product, helping elderly, or anything you feel like doing. Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t over think it. Just DO something that’s useful. Anything - that’s what will lead to happiness.