In the past 20 years, research into the subject of happiness has exploded. Thousands of books have been published on the subject in recent years. One relevant finding is that happiness and its focus on life-satisfaction is overrated and a switch has been made to a more inclusive concept of well being which includes pleasure, happiness, meaning and purpose. Let’s take a quick look at pleasure, happiness, meaning and purpose:
– Pleasure is a physical state resulting from a positive stimulation of one or more of the senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Our most common physical pleasure is eating.
– Happiness is an emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Connection to people and achievement are common sources of happiness.
– Meaning is a mental state in which activities and circumstances have value beyond the individual. Helping others and fixing the world are common sources of meaning.
– Purpose is a spiritual state which is rooted in the most fundamental questions of why we are here and what happens after we die. Religion is a common source of purpose.
Many people focus on pleasure because it is readily available. However, we become habituated to it and it’s only good to the last bite. Happiness takes more work because it requires real achievement or the development of healthy relationships. Meaning requires the even more difficult task of going beyond our self-interest and seeing a greater good. Purpose can be the ultimate life driver, but it requires a deep belief and commitment to actualize it.
The upshot of this is that we should be aware of the benefits of the higher realms of meaning and purpose and focus our efforts on flourishing in all the realms, not just pleasure and happiness. Now, go flourish!