There are nearly 350,000 results in the Amazon store when you search for the word “happiness.” Books like The Happiness Project and 10% Happier have sat on the bestseller lists for months, verifying our cultural obsession with the pursuit of happiness.
But what if I told you life’s biggest winners are motivated by something different from happiness. Would you believe me?
Winners Don’t Choose Happiness. (click to Tweet)
As a teenager I bought into the fallacy that happiness was the most important thing a person could attain. It’s why I wanted to work on Wall Street, because I thought money equated to happiness (also factually incorrect) and a career in finance would ensure solid monetary gains.
But when I was eighteen years old my mother gave me a copy of Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning, which documented the psychological differences between those who survived inside Auschwitz and those who perished. His findings detailed a new field called logotherapy (logo is Greek for meaning), as he explained that those who survived were able to do so because they believed they had a purpose to fulfill beyond their time in the concentration camps.
Since then, I’ve closely studied the differences between meaning and happiness. They are often treated in conversation as the same thing, but they are wildly different. Jennifer Aaker at Stanford has conducted several great studies on meaning, and there is little doubt that one can live a meaningful but unhappy life (a nurse or teacher in certain contexts may experience great meaning with little happiness). Others can live happy lives with minimal meaning and high levels of happiness.
So which leads to higher performance?
Happiness expires. Meaning lights internal fires. (click to Tweet this)
The best performers across business, sports, and culture focus on a sense of meaning. It gives them another gear, a work ethic driven by a higher purpose, that those purely pursuing happiness don’t possess. Pursuit of happiness is often an understood byproduct of meaning, but it’s seen as a secondary outcome.
Think of people like Michael Jordan, Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey. Do you think they consistently chose to take the daily action that would make them happiest? Or did they consistently choose to do the thing that would help them achieve what they believed they’re here to accomplish?
I guarantee Jordan didn’t spend all those late nights and early mornings practicing jump shots because they made him happy. It was because he wanted to be the best, he was driven by that singular purpose, and it’s what drove him to excel.
Discover your purpose and live it fully. (click to Tweet).
Please share what you believe to be your purpose in the comments below. You might even feel some real happiness in sharing it with the world 🙂