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The Elusive ‘Happiness’

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning Are you happy? Is your life uplifting, inspiring and joyful? If not or unsure, allow me to share a few things about how to make your life delightful. As part of my research for my books and articles on meaningful purpose psychology (logoteleology) I continually study

relevant topics to strengthen the validity and reliability of the science, which includes the subject of happiness. Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MPP) is the scientific study of the meanings that enable individuals and communities to thrive and to succeed. According to MPP, one of the Five Meaningful Strivings – or meaningful states that we yearn for — is happiness. The good news is that during the last few decades social scientists have been able to deepen our understanding of this feeling, and provided us with practical tools and methods to make us happier. But, unfortunately, as the colloquial expression goes, many “didn’t get the memo.” In other words, genuine and lasting happiness is still an elusive hope for many. Why is this so? Let’s start by defining ‘happiness’ and its fit in Logoteleology’s Five Meaningful Life Strivings. What is ‘happiness’? Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MPP) defines happiness as a long-lasting mood that reflects a content and joyful state of mind. Because we all go through short-term episodic sensitive highs and lows, we define and measure happiness as a steady and long-term affective state of life (i.e., mood). In MPP, the state of happiness is primarily the outcome of love and peace of mind; and engaging and succeeding in interesting tasks. I already explained on a previous blog, “What is Meaningful, and why knowing matters?”, what the role of happiness is in the Five Meaningful Life Strivings. However, let’s do a quick review. The Five Meaningful Life Strivings Meaningful Purpose Psychology embraces Viktor Frankl’s proposition that people yearn and strive for meaning. To be more exact, humans yearn for and strive for what is meaningful. Supported by strong empirical research, Logoteleology’s Five Meaningful Life Strivings are:

  1. Love / Care — a want and need to give and receive love, attention and concern. Practicing self-acceptance and self-compassion. Being other-oriented, responsible, sensible, caring, and empathic

  2. Peace, and peace of mind — experiencing harmony, trust, friendship and goodwill with, through and for others

  3. Happiness — an extended mood of joy, gladness and contentment

  4. Interest — experiencing curiosity, and building tangible and intangible things for positive use and for the well-being of society

  5. Prosperity — enjoying forward movement, actualization, achievement, growth, success and affluence The Meaningful Path Our findings define the meaningful path as one that starts by loving and caring for others. Love is a

precondition to peace. It is the combined presence of the states of love and peace that leads to happiness. In turn, having a happy disposition creates conditions where we can learn and apply competence and curiosity; and to enjoy and appreciate all that life has to offer. For instance, interest includes engaging in intrinsic stimulating work (e.g. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘flow’), interacting with interesting and fun people, enjoying visits to historical and beautiful sites, working on fascinating projects, engaging on fun hobbies and entertainment, etc. Interest too can make people happy. Living an interesting life also leads to growth and fulfillment, can lead to financial prosperity, and an overall sense of forward movement. Finally, according to Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, currently Kenan Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “positive emotions broaden the scopes of attention, cognition and action, and that they build physical, intellectual and social resources”. Love, peace and happiness are positive feelings. Again, the evidence validating the Five Meaningful Life Strivings is vast.

“When people try to achieve happiness on their own, without the support of a faith, they usually seek to maximize pleasures that are either biologically programmed in their genes or are out as attractive by the society in which they live. Wealth, power, and sex become the chief goals that give direction to their strivings. But the quality of life cannot be improved that way. Only direct control of experience, the ability to derive moment-to-moment enjoyment from everything we do, can overcome obstacles to fulfillment.”

Flow: Magaly Csikszentmihalyi

The Meaningless Path On the other hand, the meaningless path starts when people value objects over people. For instance, the proof is overwhelming that other things being equal, “people who care more about money are less happy”.[1][2] Wealth is not the problem; rather it is the pursuit of wealth as a primary life goal and matter of importance. The findings by the Earth Institute of Columbia University in New York reported: “While higher income may raise happiness to some extent, the quest for higher income may actually reduce

one’s happiness. In other words, it may be nice to have more money but not so nice to crave it. Psychologists have found repeatedly that individuals who put a high premium on higher incomes generally are less happy and more vulnerable to other psychological ills than individuals who do not crave higher incomes.” [3] On the other hand, according to The World Happiness Report[4], “when people give money they experience a positive reward.” On page 72 of the same report the authors’ state: “There is of course plenty of evidence that people who care more about others are typically happier than those who care more about themselves. But does that mean that altruism increases happiness in a causal sense? Evidence of volunteering and on giving money suggests that it does.” Forbe’s Christopher Helman, reporting on the world’s happiest and saddest countries, stated: “So who’s the happiest? As has been the case the past five years, that distinction goes to countries that enjoy peace, freedom, good healthcare, quality education, a functioning political system and plenty of opportunity: Norway, Sweden, Canada and New Zealand. The saddest, least prosperous? War-ravaged countries under the thumb of greedy despots and theocrats, where freedom of expression is limited, education nonexistent, violence the norm: Chad, Congo, Central African Republic, Afghanistan and Yemen.” [5] Joseph Brean, on a September 9, 2013 article titled, Is the world becoming a happier place? Contentment has nudged up around the globe, UN report says, published on the National Post, shared a sad commentary of our progress toward making our planet a happier place. “Despite the obvious detrimental happiness impacts of the 2007-08 financial crisis, the world has become a slightly happier and more generous place over the past five years,” the report reads. “For the world as a whole, there was an insignificant 0.5% increase.”[6]“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  — Gandhi Do we need more evidence? As stated on previous posts, Meaningful Purpose Psychology came to being to study and resolve a fundamental existential problem. I quote from my book, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose:“Mankind, I concluded, does not suffer from a lack of answers. Rather, it suffers despite the answers being available.” Logoteleologists are dedicated to studying this phenomenon; and more importantly, to help individuals, groups and organizations understand how to stop self-inflicted misery, mediocrity, and unhappiness. The unhappiness problems affect us all at global, national, organizational, community, group and individual levels. As was concluded by the World Happiness Report, “We increasingly understand that we need a very different model of humanity,….” Meaningful Purpose Psychology is committed to contributing practical solutions for a more humane and meaningful model of humanity – not just by leveraging the obvious evidence of what leads to meaningful happiness – but on ways to implement and give permanence to meaningful solutions. While we continue to encourage further research, the propositions of Meaningful Purpose Psychology continue to find empirical and anecdotal validity through research, and as reported by our coachees, our client leaders in organizations, as well as our growing alumni of Meaningful Purpose Laboratories. Why is happiness elusive to so many? As corroborated by empirical research and other sources, unhappiness is the consequence of choosing the meaningless path. Rather than embracing and following the Five Meaningful Life Strivings in sequence – caring for self and others, fostering peace and happy states, encouraging creativity, interest and challenge, as well as prosperity — too many are choosing the path to misery, mediocrity, and missed opportunity. Countless are unhappy because they have not determined and committed to a meaningful life purpose that includes being happy and bringing happiness to others. Until we — collectively as a species — mean to be meaningfully blissful, happiness will be elusive. That means that the Five Meaningful Strivings are not just longings; they are a style of life, and define success. How to be happy Meaningfulness is outward or other-oriented. Meaningless is being inward or self-oriented. The happiness formula is not complicated. Simply start by

  1. caring for others. Being dependable, trustworthy, and encouraging

  2. preventing unnecessary conflict, being reasonable, and managing differences to foster good will (back to being loving and caring)

  3. making others feel good, laugh and smile not only through healthy humor, but by being caring and sensible to others

  4. engaging with others in work and other activities where all can be their best, succeed, and grow through collaboration and team support

  5. making  the previous points a top priority so that others can experience a life worth living, and build a legacy that makes their life and the world a better place Practicing these five strivings as a way of life require the competence to do so, and an attitude to want to. Competency can be learned through books and positive examples and models. We do not lack knowledge and skill building activities to practice the previous five strivings. Attitude is about a heartfelt commitment to do what is right because it is right, regardless of the price paid. “A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.” ~ Viktor Frankl ~ Are you ready to make the choice to be meaningful and to be happy?

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” ― Viktor Frankl

Additional Resources Blumberg, Herbert H., et al. Peace Psychology: a Comprehensive Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 2007. Compton, William C., and Edward Hoffman. Positive Psychology: the Science of Happiness and Flourishing. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2013. Cshikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow. New York: Happerperennial. 1990 Deci, Edward L., and Richard M. Ryan. Handbook on Self-Determination Research: Theoretical and Applied Issues. University of Rochester Press, 2002. Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. Beacon Press, 2006. Fredrickson, Barbara. Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press, 2013. Frijda, Nico H., et al. Emotions and Beliefs: How Feelings Influence Thoughts. Cambridge University Press, 2010. Germer, Christopher K. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. Guildford Press, 2009. MacNair, Rachel Mary, and Arun Gandhi. Working for Peace: a Handbook of Practical Psychology and Other Tools. Impact Publishers, 2006. Maio, Gregory R., and Geoffrey Haddock. The Psychology of Attitudes & Attitude Change. Sage Publications Ltd, 2015. Marrero, Luis A. The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. Bloomington: IUniverse LLC. 2013. Peterson, Christopher. A Primer in Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press, 2006. Rosenberg, Marshall B. Nonviolent Communication: a Language of Compassion. PuddleDancer Press, 2002. Russell, Nan S. “Trust, Inc: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation”. Career Press.2014. Sternberg, Robert J, and Karin Weis, editors. The New Psychology of Love. Yale University Press, 2006. Szalavitz, Maia, and Bruce Duncan Perry. Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential – and Endangered. HarperPaperbacks, 2011. The Abiner Institute. The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., a BK Life Book, 2008. [1] Konow, James, and Joseph Earley, “The Hedonistic Paradox: Is homo economicus happier?” Journal of Public Economics 92 (2008) 1 -33. [2][3] Ibid, page 5 [4] Ibid, page 73 [5][6]

Copyright 2014. Luis A. Marrero, Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose

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