The link between happiness and purpose


Life is unpredictable. We never quite know what’s going to happen to us, even with the best laid plans. There are so many factors involved, so many unknowns. When you’re sailing out to sea, you might wish you could control the ocean. It would certainly make things easier. You wouldn’t have to worry about shipwrecks or getting lost in a storm. The wind could keep blowing at a steady pace and you could be sure the vessel under your feet stays under your feet.

“No wind serves him who addresses his voyage to no certain port.” – Michel de Montaigne

The desire to control what is going to happen to us can dominate our lives but it is impossible to control the ocean. If our aim is security, to keep the ship afloat, this might sound demoralising. But if we are set on a destination beyond the horizon and our focus is on controlling ourselves instead of our environment, the perils of the journey become part of the adventure of life.

A reason to rise above

To put it still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.” – Ron Heifetz

It is so easy to get swept along by life because there are so many things that happen to us. In the day-to-day, life can feel like a series of reactions to events. It can be overwhelming. When we live by broad brushstrokes of, ‘I want to be happy,’ ‘I want to get through the day,’ ‘I want to stop everything from falling apart,’ we will find all three of these things to be difficult.

Purpose puts circumstance into perspective. When we know ourselves well enough to understand what is important to us, we can see past the immediate. When we are aware enough to perceive when our reactions are out of line with our values, we can begin to work on the underlying issues. If there’s no reason to press into what is uncomfortable, we will stay imprisoned within our default patterns of behaviour. Purpose gives us a reason to take command of the ship, to strain at the oars and sail through the wind.

Part of a crew

When we know the direction our inner compass is pointing, it doesn’t mean we have full certainty of the final destination. But we know we’re headed towards what matters to us – and we can ally ourselves with those who are also headed that way. Purpose takes you beyond yourself and into a community who have cause to stay connected. The desire to have fun can lead to good friendships but the longing to do something that matters builds belonging into people.

Where is happiness?

“Our history is a mixture of noble ideals never completely fulfilled, but always sought; and when lost track of for whatever reason, they are pursued again with renewed vigour.” – John Pepper, What Really Matters

An avoidance of difficulty is an avoidance of life. Living fully means embracing the risk, the unknown, the failure. It means going to your edge. You might not expect to find happiness there but that is where fulfilment happens, where legacies are left, where the extraordinary occurs. Happiness doesn’t just make an appearance on the shores of your destination. It’s as part of a crew. Journeying towards the horizon.

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