I've written fairly frequently on ways to make yourself happier in the workplace and elsewhere, but I've recently come to the conclusion that I've been barking up the wrong tree.

The pursuit of happiness may be a natural right, but it's also self-centered. To achieve happiness, you simply increase the amount of pleasure to your life while decreasing the amount of pain. That's all about you.

What's really important isn't happiness but meaning. The question worth asking isn't "Am I happy?" but "Does my life have meaning?" Without meaning, happiness is just an emotion. It might as well come from a drug or a drink.

I've noticed that when I focus on meaning rather than happiness, I make decisions that matter. I sometimes decide to experience more pain and less pleasure in order to serve that greater meaning.

For example, I would literally "take a bullet" for my kids. I would sacrifice everything, even my life, to protect them. I don't believe I'm unusually in feeling that way. Most Dads feel the same. Because being a Dad gives meaning to your life.

Does being a Dad make me happy? Sometimes, sure, but that's not the point. Once you become a Dad, it's not about you anymore. It's about your kids.

The same thing is true in the workplace. I've seen plenty of fancy workplaces with all sorts of "happiness" perks, but if the people there aren't convinced that what they're doing actually matters, they're miserable.

I've also noticed that the "be happy at work" movement is sometimes co-opted as a way to manipulate employees. I've started run across people whose smiles seem forced, as if they're afraid that if they frown, they'll end up in the cornfield.

It's not about being happy. It's about making a difference. It's not about you. It's about having a reason you exist. I'm all for feeling good, but how long can that feeling last if you know in your gut that your actions are meaningless?

With that in mind, I'm making this commitment: In 2016, I'll write less about making work happier and more about making work meaningful. If that's something you want, subscribe to my free weekly newsletter and you'll never miss a post.

Published on: Dec 30, 2015
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