Finding the true path to happiness

Published by Lori Pickert on February 11, 2013 at 09:18 AM

This post is part of my Monday series on PBH for Grown-ups — you can see all of the posts here.

This series is not about how to be happier. It's about how to do your meaningful work. It's about how to inject your life with purpose and meaning.

Will you be happier? Chances are you’ll be a lot happier — because happiness is a byproduct of doing meaningful work and helping others.

[A]ccording to the Center for Disease Control, about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Forty percent either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Nearly a quarter of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research. “It is the very pursuit of happiness,” Frankl knew, “that thwarts happiness.” — There’s More to Life than Being Happy

In the dark, if you want to see something better, you should look at it out of the corner of your eye. In the same way, if you want to be happy, you should stop pursuing happiness — stop focusing on yourself, stop turning inward, stop poking at your belly button. If you want to be happier, focus more on what you can do for others. Maximize what you have to offer and figure out how to contribute. If you want to be happier, pursue meaning and purpose. Figure out what the world needs that you can give.

Many people think “child-led learning” (or interest-led learning, or something resembling project-based homeschooling) is selfish. In their minds, encouraging children to follow their interests = letting them do whatever they want = having fun all the time = becoming selfish.

Maybe you are having the same thoughts about pursuing your own meaningful work — aren’t you just being selfish? Shouldn’t you devote more time to your children or your family or at least making a few bucks?

But how does that work exactly? Will you do a better or worse job of raising your children if you are connected with your own meaningful work? Will you be more or less likely to earn money if you’ve built up your knowledge and your skills? Will you be a better or worse leader for your family if you dedicate time toward becoming a better learner and mentor?

Is it lazy to just have fun all the time doing what you enjoy?

Doing real work that is meaningful to you is the most likely way you’re going to work hard and challenge yourself. You’re self-motivated to do well, dig deeper, have bigger ideas, and strive to make them happen. You are deeply engaged and you care enough to give more — you care enough to give everything you have. Allowing children to pursue their deep interests makes it more, not less, likely that they will make their strongest effort.

Is it selfish to pursue your own meaningful work?

PBH puts you on a continuum where you seek out help from others (mentors, experts, teachers) and you offer help to others (sharing what you know, passing on skills, creating something useful and meaningful). It is a method of learning that focuses on relationships — what others can teach us and what we can teach them, what we each need and what we each have to give.

Selfish? This is a way of learning and living that encourages generosity. Because developing your talents and acquiring skills means you have something to give.

Happiness is a slippery thing. You grab for it and it squirts away. If all you do is focus on yourself and what you want, you’ll be miserable. True happiness comes from being part of a larger world, caring about something, and making a real contribution.

Happiness is the cart that belongs behind the horse of a life lived well.

If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. — W. Beran Wolfe

The point of this series is to start living ourselves the engaged, learning, working, doing, making life we want for our children. The best way to help them build a life of meaning and purpose is to build that for ourselves. Every parent’s singular wish is for their child to be happy. And a life of meaning and purpose is the path to that wish fulfilled.

So get out there and start breaking the trail.


Comment by Teri on February 12, 2013 at 03:43 AM

Thank you for helping me find focus!!!!!!!!!!!! It's a very big deal to me and I am really excited about doing the work I'm now doing. Thank you for your inspiring and instructive posts!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 12, 2013 at 09:37 AM

you are so very welcome! thank you! :)

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