Most of us just want to be happy and live joyful, exciting, and meaningful lives. But it’s easy to forget that there is not one universal definition of happiness. Nor is happiness something we discover one day and then get to keep for the rest of our lives. The question is, should we even be putting so much stock into being “happy”? Is happiness overrated?
There is a reason most of us feel frustrated by how elusive happiness is. It comes and goes in waves, or hardly comes at all, and we wonder what’s wrong with us. But it’s not that we’re doing something wrong. Happiness itself is simply a fleeting feeling.
Let’s break down what it means to be happy, and why we should consider seeking fulfillment and meaning over happiness.
What is Happiness?
You might be wondering, What the heck is the difference between happiness and fulfillment? It’s all the same… It is tempting to think this way when we feel hopeless about ever finding lasting happiness.
But distinguishing between “happiness” and “fulfillment” is not just a matter of semantics. Let’s get to the core of why fulfillment is a worthier goal than happiness.
Happiness is a feeling of joy, excitement, pleasure, or giddiness. Happiness feels mentally and physically good, which is why we crave it. Like a release of dopamine in the bloodstream, happiness warms our hearts, makes us smile and laugh, and lessens anxiety and tightness in the body.
But the feeling of happiness is a temporary emotional state, because it’s typically caused by an outside circumstance. And since circumstances come and go, so does the accompanying fleeting “happy” state.
Should Happiness Be the Goal?
Happiness is an understandable and noble pursuit. We think what we want is to feel happy, because this emotion is pleasurable and satisfying.
We want to have a job that makes us happy, a relationship that makes us happy, a new car that makes us happy. But our desire for long-lasting fulfillment is easily misconstrued as a desire for something that will only make us briefly happy.
To learn more about fulfillment, happiness, and purpose, explore Happiness articles at BetterHelp.
The Problem with Happiness
The problem is this: the things we use to fill the void for happiness are external situations, things, and surface-wants. Thus, they will inevitably change or disappear with time. And if our happiness is based on these things, we’ll only be able to hold onto feeling happy for so long until grief, anger, stress, and other things take its place.
In the end, what most of us really want is to feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and fulfillment that lasts a lifetime. Something that makes us feel whole as a human being and cannot be taken away by any outside circumstances.
Fulfillment and Meaning Are Sustainable
Instead of chasing happiness on an endless hamster wheel that repeatedly throws us off, consider seeking more fulfillment.
Fulfillment is all about living a life that reflects the things we value, our morals, and our deepest loves and passions. It is about making choices more intentionally, choices that help us align with the things that really matter to us.
Think of happiness as a beautiful flower that gives you pleasure for a few days. And think of fulfillment as a strong, powerful tree with its roots planted firmly in the soil that can withstand the test of time.
Ways to Find Fulfillment
There is no one-size-fits-all for a fulfilling life. Your definition of true meaning and purpose will reflect your own personal passions, values, and integrity. But there are some guideposts to help you on your journey of self-discovery toward fulfillment.
- Be grateful. While you cannot sustain a level of giddiness or excitement 24/7, gratitude is sustainable. Appreciating all aspects of your life, even the darker aspects, can work to diminish the impact of challenging circumstances. So, while we cannot always be happy, we can lessen our suffering by practicing gratitude.
- Make deeper connections with others. Vulnerable, authentic connections with other people are the antidote for loneliness, shame, and sadness. A sense of belonging is integral to a fulfilling life. We are social creatures by nature and will struggle to achieve sustainable contentment if we feel isolated.
- Look within for self-discovery. It’s impossible to achieve fulfillment if we don’t have the first clue about what makes us come alive. What we value. The hobbies or types of work that get us into flow. Begin by asking yourself some questions: What experiences in the past made me feel alive? What types of work make time fly by? How does helping others make me feel?