Why Seeking Meaning is Healthier than Seeking Happiness

“A sense of meaningfulness is healthier than happiness. Mere happiness is associated with selfish “taking” behavior, while having a sense of meaning in life is associated with selfless “giving” behavior.” ~ Rob Brezsny

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. We all want to be happy. But maybe happiness should be looked at in the same way we look at enlightenment: where the journey is the thing.

I mean, what if happiness never shows up? What then? Do we wallow in our sadness, pitying ourselves, or do we inject meaning into our experience no matter how sad or tragic it may be?

Maybe it is in the seeking for happiness itself that prevents us from ever achieving it. Maybe our expecting to be happy, or believing that we “deserve” to be happy, has us clinging so tightly to its fulfillment that we’re smothering it before it ever has a chance to spark. Like a carrot forever dangling out of our reach.


Maybe it’s our incessant seeking of happiness that has the cart wedged in front of the horse, and maybe discovering meaning in the moment is putting the horse back in front of the cart so that we can at least continue our journey – whether happiness decides to show up or not.

Or, maybe happiness is a choice. Maybe it’s always been there and all we had to do was tap into it. As Dan Millman said, “There is no path to Happiness. Happiness is the path.”

But the question is this: how do we achieve a state of mind where we can utilize a healthy disposition? Because when it comes down to it, it’s really just a matter of perspective. It comes down to how capable we are of discovering meaning within our journey.

I would even argue that the more meaning we’re able to discover in our life’s journey, no matter how tragic, dramatic, or even comedic the journey may be, the more likely we are to be authentically happy.

Stumbling over happiness

“The premise of the Takers’ story is ‘The world belongs to man.’ …The premise of the Leavers’ story is ‘Man belongs to the world.’” ~ Daniel Quinn, Ishmael

Here’s the thing, with constantly seeking happiness: there’s the tendency to shirk responsibility for our own emotional state, to imagine that happiness is ‘out there’ somewhere, or that happiness is dependent upon people acting a certain way. But when we’re under the spell of this unhealthy perception, we’re inadvertently in a state of disempowerment.

We’re not truly in the moment, we’re not fully aware of reality the way it is, because we’re too busy wishing that something-or-other were the case, or that someone “should have” treated us better. But we cannot control other people. We cannot control fate.

We can only control the way we react. When we’re in the frame of mind that we “deserve” to be happy, we’re in a state of disempowerment, because we’re allowing fate or other people to decide our emotional state for us.

Like Abraham Hicks said, “Tell everyone you know: “My happiness depends on me, so you’re off the hook.”

And then demonstrate it. Be happy, no matter what they’re doing. Practice feeling good, no matter what. And before you know it, you will not give anyone else responsibility for the way you feel — and then, you’ll love them all.

Because the only reason you don’t love them, is because you’re using them as your excuse to not feel good.”

There is also the tendency to take more than we need, because we’re vainly trying to fill a void that cannot be filled. We believe our emptiness needs to be filled before it has even been reconciled, which leads to the idea that the world owes us something, or that the world “belongs” to us.

We consume any number of things in order to “gain” or even “take” happiness, only to realize in the end that no amount of overindulgence, hyper-consumption, material possessions, or money could ever make us happy.

When we seek happiness “out there” instead of being present with happiness “in here,” then we’re more likely to fall prey to slippery con artists or charlatan middlemen pedaling happiness like it was snake-oil.

This is especially the case in hyperreal cultures with manipulative commercials and devious advertisements seeking to capitalize on our need to be happy: “You’ll be happy with this fancy new gadget!” or “Make your friends green with envy with this brand new car!

Act now!” But happiness is not a commodity. The “good life” is not attained through the “goods life.” Meaning: happiness is not found but created, here and now, in the present moment.

Discovering meaning

“Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.” ~ Chuang Tzu

happy3 In order to discover true happiness in this life, one must become adept at adapting. By living in the moment, with the ability to let go of the past and not dwell on the future, we’re more likely to be able to adapt to any condition.

Whether life brings us pain or pleasure, sorrow or joy, tragedy or comedy, the ability to adapt is the ability to engineer meaning into an otherwise meaningless universe.

It’s getting our “need for happiness” out of the way so that we can enjoy the journey for what it is, whether it brings us happiness or not.

When we make the search for meaning primary and the search for happiness secondary, we begin living life on purpose, with purpose, and happiness becomes a side effect of our journey instead of the reason for it.

Because happiness may never come. We might not ever be able to achieve a perfect, happy life, and it shouldn’t matter as long as we’re living with purpose and taking responsibility for the meaning we bring to any given situation.

When we allow the journey to be the thing, we’re in the moment, in the throes of the journey, and life becomes meaningful despite it being difficult or easy, painful or pleasurable, sad or happy. The journey is our cake. Being happy is the icing on that cake.

But if we can get to the point to where we can enjoy our cake with or without icing, then we can begin eating our cake with purpose, without an icing (happiness) agenda, and we’re better able to appreciate the icing (happiness) when we are lucky enough to get it.

If, as Thucydides said, “The Secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage” then it behooves us to have the courage to discover meaning despite happiness, because the need for happiness itself can be a kind of prison that we must free ourselves from.

So I would add that the secret of authentic happiness is freedom, to include especially freedom from the need for happiness.

This way we are free to bring meaning to any given situation without any agenda other than authentic intention in the moment, where our self-created meaning becomes the cornerstone whereupon our potential happiness can be leveraged.

But the happiness is always only potential happiness and secondary to the primary experience of discovering meaning in the moment, which can become authentic happiness.

Image source

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to end
Carl Jung quote

Please share, it really helps! :) <3

Gary Z McGee
Gary Z McGee
Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.


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