Happiness vs Meaning

When his kids complain about being hungry, my brother tells them, “It’s okay to be hungry.” Same for when they’re tired or sad or mad or bored. It’s an intriguing response. He doesn’t say it to be apathetic or mean; he says it to remind them that it’s a natural occurrence, and instead of just sitting there complaining, accept it and do something about it, or move on. I think it should be the same for being unhappy.

It’s okay to be unhappy. For some reason, people are obsessed with the idea of happiness, of finding it, of being it. Pretty sure happiness isn’t a permanent state. We set ourselves up for disappointment if we think something is going to make us happy, and while it might for awhile, doesn’t in the long run. New shoes make me happy when I buy them, and if they’re a great pair, every time I wear them. But that initial burst of euphoria I get when I hand over my money to the vendor and take home a flawless pair of boots smelling of new leather— it doesn’t last. Neither does the flawlessness. After a few years, they may still be my favorite pair of boots, but they’re worn. I think happiness is simply a moment. If we invest too much of our life chasing it, we’ll miss out on something much better: meaning.

I’ve read and heard a lot lately about “meaning.” As humans, it is at the core of what we need. Life’s biggest questions seem to center around it.

There’s been a shift in the way people live. People don’t just want jobs anymore, they want careers with meaning. They want to do something with their lives that matter. A steady paycheck isn’t the sole purpose of work. But there seems to be a trend: if you’re job doesn’t make you happy, then quit and find something that does. Well, happy is the wrong word. There are tons of things that I love to do, but they don’t always make me happy. Being a parent for example. That is probably the most meaningful thing I could do with my life. Does it make me happy? Sometimes. Is it worth it? Every single day.

I think we focus too much on whether something makes us happy at any given moment, which really just gives us an excuse to quit. “Designing this website is making me so frustrated and upset. I’m done working on it.” Imagine if I had that attitude with my kids— “I’m sick of you arguing and having bad attitudes! Out on the street you go.” Pretty sure I’d go to prison for that one. The point is, there are days when you’re not going to love doing what you love. And like my brother would say, that’s okay. It’s okay to feel unhappy right now. That is the moment to prove what you’re made of. You can let it beat you, or you can say, sure I don’t like this right now, but I love doing what I do. And at this moment, the bigger picture is more important.

The truth is, you’re not going to look back and remember all those little moments that made you happy or unhappy. You’re going to see the big picture, the end result of all the things you did that had meaning. And you’ll be happy with that.