Why you should stop chasing happiness and focus on meaning instead

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Anna Brech
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Happiness is the buzzword of a digital generation, but it’s a frustratingly ephemeral quality.

No sooner do we think we have it, then it slips through our fingers again. Or we spend our whole time in relentless pursuit of it – so much so, that we don’t live in the present, a quality that most psychologists will say is central to feeling content.

It’s this fallacy that has led wellbeing author Emily Esfahani Smith to stipulate that we should forget about happiness and instead focus on creating meaning in our lives.

In her new book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That MattersSmith argues that meaning has more substance and impact than happiness, and is ultimately more important to us when we look back on what we’ve achieved.

“If you’re chasing happiness, you’re building your castle on a very shaky foundation because the feeling can slip away easily,” Smith tells Today. "Meaning is something that endures, that you can seek out and find."

“When you’re on your death bed and reflecting back on your life, what you are going to be proudest of are the things that made your life meaningful,” she adds.

Smith says meaning demands more sacrifice than happiness; for example, we would need to put our own desires on hold to raise children or run a business.

It’s more of a struggle, but also more satisfying when the hard work and commitment pays off.

Smith lays out what she refers to as her “four pillars of meaning” that are key to living a meaningful life:


“We get a lot of our cues about how our lives are going by the way people treat us,” Smith says, so it's important to surround yourself with people who treat you like you matter.


First, identify what your personal strengths are. Then use these to help others. Studies indicate that when you frame chores or tasks as an opportunity to support others, you’re more likely to feel motivated and purposeful.


Think about your own story - the one you tell yourself about yourself. Use a journal to reflect on your life experiences, to understand how they’ve shaped you.


Make the most of small moments that lift you out of the stresses of everyday life. It could be as simple as looking at a beautiful view, or drinking in the scents of a herb garden.


Photos: iStock


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.