The futile search for happiness & meaning

What makes life worth living? Is it a life filled with happiness or a life filled with purpose and meaning? Is there even a difference between the two?

Think of the human rights activist who fights oppression but ends up in prison like Nelson Mandela — was he happy? Or the social animal who spends his nights (and some days) jumping from party to party—is that the good life?


Religious people believe that Happiness comes from their implicit faith in their gods. This gives them the ‘Takeaway’ of psychological benefits like:

1. Protection in this life from adversities (illnesses, accidents).

2. Immortality & eternal bliss in the afterlife.

3. Ultimate Justice against all people who have hurt & manipulated you and escaped earthly justice.

But as George Bernard Shaw said: “The fact that a believer is happier than a Skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity & gullibility is a dangerous quality of happiness and by no means a necessity of life”.

Though Social Research shows that Religious people are happier than the non-believers, truth happens to be more important for me and people like me than false comfort. If seeking the truth makes us less happy, so be it. We can live with that.

Meaningful life

Meaningful life for the religious usually comes:

1. For some by 'Giving money' to Religious charities, church donations/Temple Hundis, Sevas (special pujas).

2. For others by 'Giving one’s Time & Energies' for Prayers & pilgrimages.

3. For yet others by 'Giving up one’s Life for a cause' -- in waging Religious wars (Sunnis Vs Shiites, Catholics Vs Protestants, Hindus Vs Muslims) or Islamic Jihad by groups like Al Qaeda or ISIS.


To me all these look like an awful waste of valuable human resources. All these resources could be utilized for better purposes – for making human society more self-reliant, more tolerant toward each other, more friendly and helpful to the needy than at present. We could create the Utopian paradise here on earth itself instead of the dystopian hell it is for some right now.

End Note

We can say that Happiness comes from ‘Taking from others’ and Meaning in life comes from ‘Giving to others’. Though both are important, a feeling of gratitude for all that we have received from our parents & society, a feeling of abundance, savouring the small pleasures in life [Taking] and an attitude of empathy, compassion & generosity toward others [Giving] will make our lives both happy & meaningful. It's that simple really. Why then should the intellectuals run after a mirage?

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Comment by tom sarbeck on May 6, 2016 at 3:36am

A search for happiness or meaning might be futile.

I sort of stumbled into the former and it made the latter possible.

Comment by Michael Penn on April 28, 2016 at 8:40pm

I am happiest when I am doing something meaningful, but what is meaningful to me may not be meaningful to you. In fact, you may not care for it at all. This is a variety of life that makes us all who we are.



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