When was the last time you felt happy? Try to think about where you were, what you were doing and what the situation was. Maybe you were doing something that was a lot of fun — like playing a game or watching a movie. Or maybe it was something that was very meaningful to you — like spending time with your family.
It’s common knowledge that as human beings, we all crave pleasure and want things that are enjoyable; at the same time, we avoid pain and shun things that cause us suffering.
However, other than pleasure and pain, there are two other sensations that can affect our happiness levels. These sensations are purposefulness and pointlessness. When we feel a sense of meaning or purpose, we are more likely to be happier. However, when we feel like the things we do are pointless and lack meaning, we may end up feeling unhappy.
To be truly happy, you need to feel a strong sense of purpose and pleasure.
Why is purpose important?
It helps you find your values: Once you understand your purpose, it becomes easy to identify your values. Values are the rules that guide your decisions and help define your goals. They help you live a life of integrity.
It keeps you focussed on your goals: When you know what gives your life purpose and what your values are, you can then set goals in alignment with them. For example, if spending time with your friends and family gives you purpose, you may set a goal to host monthly dinners at your home to spend time with them all.
It makes you feel gratified: When you start working towards achieving your goals, you may also start making other conscious decisions that align with your values. These decisions can revolve around the people you meet, the lifestyle you live and the kind of work you do. As your life gets more closely aligned to your purpose, you will experience a deeper sense of satisfaction.
It protects your mental health: When you engage in work that makes you feel a sense of purpose, you can feel more accomplished. In fact, when you feel sad, low or even depressed, engaging in purposeful activities can improve your mental state.
It opens up new opportunities: When you live your life with a sense of purpose, you base all your decisions, thoughts and actions around it. You may even create new relationships, learn new skills, change your career and move cities. The path you follow can lead you to many new opportunities that will make your life even more purposeful.
How can you use purpose to live a happier life?
Living a happier life is all about finding the balance between pleasure and purpose. This may seem confusing — after all, aren’t pleasure and purpose both supposed to make you happier? Can there be too much of either of these two experiences?
The answer is: Yes, sometimes! It is entirely possible that the things that give you purpose may not bring you pleasure, or the things that bring you pleasure do not give you purpose. Consider your school days. You probably felt a great sense of purpose and accomplishment when you were complimented for getting a good grade and scoring high marks. However, this may have required long hours of studying which you may not have always found pleasurable.
Depending on how one spends their time between pleasure and purpose, they may be living one of four types of lifestyle. They are:
The driven lifestyle: In this lifestyle, one focusses their time, effort and energy on doing things that give them purpose, but not so much on things that bring them pleasure. For example, they may find purpose by advancing in their career and finding professional success. However, spending all time on work and career may not leave one with enough scope for the things that bring them pleasure — like spending time with friends and family, exercising, engaging in hobbies or taking time for themselves. If one spends too much time focussing only on purpose, they may start to feel dull and even tired.
The indulgent lifestyle: In this lifestyle, one prioritises pleasure. People who lead this lifestyle understand that there are things that give them purpose, but they might often trade these things for their own enjoyment. For example, one may find purpose in cooking their own food. However, they may not want to put in the effort it takes to actually prepare food and may end up ordering food or eating out. If one spends most of their time prioritising enjoyment only, they may not take proactive decisions about their life and may not end up feeling accomplished or satisfied.
The stagnant lifestyle: In this lifestyle, one ends up not making time for the things that they enjoy nor the things that give them purpose. This may be because they haven’t reflected on their life yet and haven’t understood the things they enjoy or find meaningful. Or it could be that circumstances are such that they are forced to make sacrifices. For example, someone might find pleasure in spending time with their family and purpose in helping others — but due to economic instability, they might work at a job that keeps them distant from their family and follows unethical practices. As a result, they may struggle to be happy.
The fulfilled lifestyle: In this lifestyle, one has found a way to balance both, the things that they enjoy and the things that give them meaning. For example: If one enjoys singing, and finds purpose in teaching, they may feel fulfilled when they begin teaching music to others. Having a fulfilled lifestyle can help people find long-term happiness. While there may be ups-and-downs in life and they may have days where they are unhappy, on the whole, they will feel content and satisfied.
Sometimes the lifestyle one lives also depends on the stage of life they are in. For example, a young child may have a more indulgent lifestyle; however, as they begin going to school they may start living a more driven lifestyle. As they complete their education and begin working, they may feel like they are living a stagnant lifestyle, but after a few years, they may learn how to live a balanced and fulfilled lifestyle.
How can one live a fulfilled life?
Practise activity scheduling
Make a list of things that you enjoy and find meaning in. Add at least one or two things that bring you pleasure and purpose to your daily to-do list. Schedule time specifically every day for this activity. For example, if you enjoy reading, allot a specific time in the day — maybe 20 minutes before bed — where you will engage in reading. Similarly, if you find meaning in spending time with animals, you can feed the stray animals near your home every night.
Make plans for the future
Ask yourself how you want your life to look five years from now. Try to create a detailed blueprint for your future self. You can include things like where you want to be living, the kind of work you want to be doing, the people who will be a part of your life. Keep these things in mind and try to make decisions which take you towards this future. For example, if you want to be promoted to a senior position in your company in the next five years, you can work towards it by starting to take on more responsibilities at work, developing a good rapport with the people you work with and maintaining a strong work ethic.
Have you ever thought, “I’ll do the laundry after lunch” but after lunch, you procrastinate and forget about the laundry until two days later when you’re out of clean socks? You may not have faced this exact situation, but everyone has been guilty of procrastination at some point in time. Stop waiting for better timing, better circumstances or the next day. If there is something that you think is important to you, do it today.
Prioritise and single-task
Avoiding procrastination doesn’t mean you do everything that you want all at once. That’s why it’s important for you to make your priorities clear and do things one at a time. Single-tasking or doing things one at a time allows you to focus all your attention, dedication and effort into doing it well. For example, if you want to plan a beach holiday and complete a project report, you can’t do them side by side. If your project report has a deadline of next week, and your beach holiday is months away, make the project your priority and focus all your attention towards it. Once you have completed your project, you can shift your focus to planning your holiday.
Be assertive and say no
Many people struggle to say no to others as they don’t want to disappoint others, or they have a fear of missing out. Remember that as a person you may not be able to experience everything in life. There are some things that you have to say no to so that you can have more time for the things that you enjoy and find meaning in. For example, if you find meaning in spending time alone and enjoy your own company, turn down the offer to join your colleagues at happy hour.
Finding a way to balance the things that you enjoy and the things that give you meaning can be difficult. However, with time you can learn how to get the best of both without having many regrets.
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Are You a Pleasure Machine or a Purpose Engine? (n.d.). Retrieved from Psychology Today website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-design/201501/are-you-pleasure-machine-or-purpose-engine
Dolan, P. (2014). What is Happiness? In Happiness by Design: Change What You Do Not How You Think. New York, New York: Penguin Publications.
Goalcast. (2017, May 17). Retrieved from Goalcast website: https://www.goalcast.com/2017/05/17/10-benefits-of-knowing-your-purpose-in-life/
Pleasure and Purpose: The Ingredients to Happiness. (2018, October 22). Retrieved from Exploring your mind website: https://exploringyourmind.com/pleasure-purpose-ingredients-happiness/
Wellness Coaching – A Model for Change. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.wellnesscoachingaustralia.com.au website: https://www.wellnesscoachingaustralia.com.au/