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The Purpose of Happiness

March 11, 2021

Purpose. We have to have purpose it seems. I have worked all these years doing my job and now I want to do something that has meaning! Is it true that all that I have done is for nothing, meaningless? This has been spoken by more than one of my friends after the kids moved out or as they approached retirement.

Why would someone say this? Why would someone feel this? What is it they are saying? Isn’t there a saying in the theatre “There are no small roles, only small actors”? Does the same apply to our life’s work? Which are the honorable jobs, the valuable, the contribution to society jobs?

I propose the yearning for purpose, or meaning, is not truly an evaluation of our past but a yearning for a future of possibility. When we are in the middle of a deadline, or stressing about a deliverable, tired from the weeks of pushing and having the client add one more request we wonder why am I doing this? At those times we might think longingly about sitting on a rocking chair overlooking a lagoon with a soft breeze blowing as the sun is setting. I might also think I would rather be doing volunteer work at the neighborhood food pantry then satisfy this ungrateful client. Well, now you are at a point in your life when you really don’t need the aggravation because the motivation has changed. The children moved out, the financial planner is saying I could survive without having to live off of dog food, so why am I sweating over this report now? Why aren’t I running to that non-profit opportunity?

As time changes, so do our needs and circumstances. The motivation needed for our first job would not be sufficient to motivate us today. We change, circumstances change, people change. I know my response to not liking my job was to think the next job would be better. I would like my next job and my life would feel better, when I get that job…that promotion….that raise…that house…. Pinning my happiness to a thing, or event, or place requires my getting the next “thing” in order to sustain happiness. If I am looking for my purpose in the same way, then I must find the thing that has purpose. Which brings me back to the question of what things have meaning, convey purpose, or will fill that hollowness I feel?

The hollowness is likely present because the prior purpose has been satisfied or is no longer relevant. When it was present it provided the reason for why I would go to work, endure the monotony of the daily routine, go through the effort. Without the purpose or motivation, the activity of work is meaningless. I find the familiarity of the activities of my job are no longer enough alone to give joy or satisfaction.

What is your definition of purpose?

Is purpose always the “reason” for doing something? It can be for many things and I would suggest this is a risky proposition, if I were to use this approach for my happiness. I would be tying my happiness to finding reasons for doing something. What if I were to tie my happiness to what I uniquely have to offer regardless of what I am doing? What if I were to focus on doing things in which I am able to use my unique gifts? What if my purpose were defined by this unique quality? Then I would have the clarity for what I would be looking to do and control over generating my happiness.

I spent the majority of my life believing I did not have unique qualities for which others would value. Other people were smarter, knew the answers, and were in touch with what they had to offer. I filled in as the brawn they needed to accomplish their objective. I was just happy to be allowed along for the ride as I worked to figure out what I had to offer. I was a conscientious employee most of the time. Took pleasure in anticipating what someone would need and hand them the tool or report at the right time. I followed the rules and would create them if others needed structure. All the while I was looking for what product or service or widget I could make or sell. Because if I could figure that out, then I would be able to be happy. I was oblivious to the happiness I felt being that support for someone else. I didn’t recognize this as a superpower or special sauce. It’s what I did and what others did was of more importance. I would succeed and be happy when I could do what they were doing. It was there all of the time. So close I couldn’t see it.

Are you looking for your purpose? Your meaning? How to be happy in the coming years? Consider if you are looking for a person, place or thing to give you happiness? There are ways to identify your special sauce. Reach out to a coach like myself who is there ready to give you the tool or service you need to find your purpose.