The meaning of life is to be happy.
At least that's what the Dalai Lama, Aristotle and many other experts of philosophy said.
It’s hard to argue against their cases. After all, happiness is something we all want.
But, what type of happiness are you aiming for?
There are two main types of happiness we can experience, and each has a different effect on our well-being.
Stimulation Vs. Fulfillment
The first type of happiness is stimulation. It's what we feel when we socialize, eat tasty food, play sports, have sex, etc.
Essentially, it's the emotion we experience when we're enjoying ourselves. It requires an external stimulus to activate this type of happiness.
Once the stimulus goes away, the happiness eventually fades, too.
The other type of happiness comes from fulfillment. This is the emotion associated with achievement, selflessness and making a difference to those around us.
Fulfillment is the end result of achieving something great. It's harder to gain, but it's self-sustainable.
It remains present rain or shine, in sickness or health and in times of fun or strife.
Both types of happy feel fantastic. In a perfect world, we’d enjoy each of them all the time.
In reality, we generally have to choose one over the other, and the wrong choice can leave us feeling empty.
Making The Choice
Stimulation is the easy option. After a long day at work, we put a few dollars toward watching a movie or meeting friends for drinks.
Before long, our brains are brimming with happy hormones.
Yet, as the days, weeks and months pass, this thought appears in our minds. It asks, "What are you doing with your life?
What have you got to show for it? Why are you here?" This thinking stems from a lack of fulfillment.
Fulfillment is a long-lasting satisfaction we'd all choose to experience if offered the opportunity. We all want to be satisfied and be the best person we could possibly be.
Yet, many of us deny ourselves this opportunity because of what has to come beforehand.
It requires an initial effort. You have to put the time in and usually, the time spent is far from stimulating. It’s a sacrifice we often struggle to make.
The Fulfillment Struggle
Fulfillment can come from doing a favor, finishing a difficult project or gaining a qualification. But, to feel truly fulfilled, we need to do something no one else could do.
We need to do something memorable, purposeful and unique.
The fantastic thing about fulfillment is there’s no limit. The more you put in, the more you get out.
Unfortunately, it first requires a lot of pain, willpower and faith. Often, our pain thresholds are too low.
When the going gets tough and when it seems things may not work out, we give up. We don’t want it enough.
You can’t enjoy the fruits of your fulfillment until after you’ve put in the work.
The payoff is too far in the future, and that’s what makes it most frustrating.
Too often, we give in to the instant gratification that comes with stimulation, and our paths to fulfillment falter.
The Road To Greatness
Greatness, by definition, is never easy. It’s often cited that it takes 10,000 hours of hard work to master any craft, but in truth, even that’s not enough. It’s not just about putting the hours in.
There are probably thousands of people who have spent 10,000 hours on a soccer field or in a swimming pool.
The difference between them and those who become multi-million dollar athletes is the type of practice they put in.
David Beckham spent most of his youth aiming hundreds of thousands of free kicks around his father.
Michael Phelps spent the majority of his time underwater, perfecting every element of his strokes.
The only type of practice that makes perfect is painstakingly frustrating and mundane.
It involves repeating the same motion over and over until it becomes second nature. It involves pushing yourself past failure again and again.
There’s nothing leisurely about mastery. Jimi Hendrix repeated the same riffs until his fingers bled.
Sylvester Stallone was relentlessly rejected when pitching "Rocky" to directors. Each of these celebrities can fill their shoes with all sorts of stimulation now, but they had to put years of painful practice in first.
Most people won’t take the pain required for a long-term gain, even when the end result is fame and fortune.
Is Fulfillment Worth The Effort?
You could argue it isn’t worth it. Most fulfilled individuals aren’t rewarded with riches or even widespread recognition.
Coaches, mentors and teachers are taken for granted. Charity volunteers rarely receive the recognition they deserve.
In our self-obsessed modern society, even favors among mates are mostly unappreciated.
Sure, there are those who truly changed the world, those whom we will remember forever.
Nelson Mandela gave away most of his life to free Africa from apartheid.
Florence Nightingale dedicated most of her days tending to wounded soldiers.
They engraved their names into history, but it’s not as if they’re alive to appreciate it now.
With this in mind, we might as well just all try to enjoy our time on earth while we can. Who knows how long we have left? Maybe there’s not enough time to make a true difference.
But, if that's so, why are there thousands of people who still sacrifice fun for a fulfilling lifestyle? Most people in honorable occupations cite the pride they feel after a hard day’s work.
Social workers, military servicemen and nurses are paid a pittance compared to others in more glamorous workplaces, yet they’ll all tell you the pride they feel makes up for the financial shortfall.
Many underestimate that warm feeling in their bellys though. It’s more than pride. It’s a purpose.
These people have a reason for being alive. They are contributing to a better world. They recognize there’s more to life than sitting around and stimulating themselves.
How Do I Find Fulfillment?
You don’t have to be Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa to feel fulfilled.
All you have to do is ask yourself what you’re passionate about and follow the path to greatness in that part of your life.
Maybe it’s not a hobby. Maybe it’s not helping people. It could be something as simple as your friends or family.
In fact, one of the main motives for starting a family is to scratch the itch that’s wondering what you will add to the world. We have children to leave a legacy.
Maybe your passion is trying to enjoy every moment of your life! If so, simply dedicate yourself to remaining as stimulated as possible at all times.
Whatever you choose, it won’t always be easy. There’ll be obstacles.
There’ll be times when you want to give up. When this happens, remind yourself what you’re trying to achieve.
Stick at it. It’s worth it. You could well be on the path to true happiness.