“The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose.” - John Mason Brown
You buy a new car, get a raise, or even find the perfect pair of shoes and feel euphoria. “What joy! This car makes me happy!” And it does, for about 2 weeks. Not to say you won’t continue appreciating it, but that high goes away and soon enough driving that car is the new normal.
Many of us mistake these euphoric little highs for the real deal, and we knit them together, as closely as possible, to make a happy life. When the euphoria fades, we cast another stitch, make another purchase, run an extra mile, and drink another glass of wine. And while this might work well enough in good times, it falls apart quickly when shit hits the fan and euphoric opportunities become few and far between.
No one knows this better than neurologist and psychiatrist, Victor Frankel, who faced his own death and the death of his entire family and peers between 1942-45 in concentration camps. Afterwards wrote a book called, Man’s Search for Meaning where he explores his experiences trying to help the hopeless and suicidal each day in the camps. There was one thing that differentiated the desperate from the hopeful -- meaning -- and he tried to help people find a reason, a purpose, for moving forward and staying alive.
Happiness Author, Raj Raghunathan, takes a more lighthearted approach to the same topic in his book -- If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Happy? He says, “Ultimately, what we need in order to be happy is … [to do] something that you find meaningful.” In fact, finding your purpose has been proven key to happiness and wellbeing over and over.
So how do we stop chasing temporary highs and find this often elusive purpose? A quest to Nepal? Nah. You can work on this in your dining room. You just need to discover, zero in on and isolate, your true values from the values of others around you (that can tend to create a static that cloud out your authentic signal).
The word “value” can be confusing too. It might be better to consider it instead as a “core motivator.” Because the real question here is purpose. And if you want to find a life purpose, it’s got to line up with what motivates you. Your bank’s lobby may tout the value of commitment, but they’re primarily motivated by money. And they are committed to you… if you have money.
Here are a few core values/motivators you might recognize in yourself or others: Family, Money, New Experiences, Loyalty, Altruism, Freedom, Community Building… you can go to Google and type in “List of Core Values” and get hundreds that might strike a cord.
Or you can think upon what actions make you satisfied, proud and content. Is it providing well for your family? Being respected at work for your commitment and honesty? Travelling to a new, exotic location?
If this line of soul searching turns up nothing, think about people you respect, admire and maybe even envy. What is it that they do, have, or prioritize that resonates with you? Consider too when you last felt things were lining up or flowing in you life. What were you doing? What was driving you in that moment? Or if that’s too nebulous, what do you disrespect out in the world? Try defining what is NOT a value to see if what is one bubbles to the surface.
Once you have hold of a few that makes sense, ask yourself:
The journey to unravel your values, motivations and purpose is not easy, but it’s the key to tapping into the deep groundswell of wellbeing that runs beneath us all.