Purpose//

Why Happiness is a Horrible Goal (and What You Should Chase Instead)

Instead of focusing on happiness, focus on usefulness.


The word happiness gets thrown around quite a bit. In America, the founding fathers promised all the ability to pursue it.

Commercials on television — in one way or another — attempt to convince you their products will provide it.

We all want it…yet we often go about finding it the wrong way.

What do you think of when you hear the word happiness?



Do you think of pleasure? That’s the cheapest version of it. We’d all love to have nothing but free time to sit on the beach, eat, drink, and be merry. But think about it, would you really want to spend your whole life kicking back…doing nothing?

It would be a hell of a lot of fun for a while, but pleasure isn’t a sustainable feeling. Look at many children who grow up very wealthy. When everything is already available to you without having to work for it, it’s hard to appreciate anything — not impossible, but difficult.

What else do you think of when you hear the word happiness?



Do you think of material gain? There’s nothing wrong with having money. In fact, having money is not only a worthwhile goal, it’s a necessary one. You have to care for yourself and for your family (if you have one). And there are great experiences one can’t enjoy without money.

That being said, materials and possessions still won’t fill an emotional void if it exists.

I think there is a form of happiness most people would benefit from pursuing, but I think there’s a better name for it.

Instead of focusing on happiness, focus on usefulness.



When you put effort into making a contribution to the world, you feel a sense of joy. Not cheap happiness that fades, but truly knowing you made an impact.

Being able to look back at something you struggled for gives you a sense of purpose.

Finding something worth struggling for, however, is the hard part.

There are certain things you have to do in life, like earn money. You don’t necessarily have time to go out and change the world.

That’s okay. You don’t have to find capital P Purpose to feel like you’ve given a part of you to something greater than yourself. Everyone isn’t meant to invent the next great technology, or become mother Theresa, or write the next great novel.

Finding a group of people to serve is all you need.

That could mean coaching a youth baseball team, running for alderman, sending out a positive message to a group of friends once a week — like I do 🙂 — anything that goes above and beyond wanting to entertain yourself or make life more pleasurable actually increases your joy over the long run.

The nihilist would say do what you want, it doesn’t matter.

The fundamentalist would say you must do ‘x’ else you’ll be unhappy.

Neither are right.

Meaning — whatever form of meaning you can create for yourself — and usefulness may not make you capital H happy, Capital W wealthy, or capital S successful, but I do know lack of meaning and idleness are the — metaphorical or literal — devil’s favorite tools for making you unhappy.

So, to start, just put yourself in motion and be useful — so useful that you’re too busy doing to worry about the exact measurement of your happiness.

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Originally published at medium.com

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