Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make a difference that you have lived and lived well.”
When we are asked what we want from life, we simply answer, “I want to be happy” or “I want to make enough money so I am not worried.” It's confusing to read that the purpose of life is not to be happy when were are always told that happiness is key. Maybe the question is not how to achieve happiness, but what creates happiness? Could it be that we confuse happiness with these other traits: honor, usefulness, compassion, and making a difference?
When we feel happy, is it because we have money, cars, clothes, and the newest iPhone? Or is it when we have purpose? Perhaps the purpose of life is to have a purpose. If every one of us had a purpose and we knew what our mission was, maybe then we would be happy. Then no amount of money, material things, or other people’s approval would be needed for happiness.
Happiness is a fickle fleeting feeling because we experience it in bursts. We want to define our entire complex lives using one fickle feeling. Instead of concentrating on what makes us honorable, compassionate, useful, and impactful, we concentrate on a feeling. Happiness is not a creature that is captured easily; happiness runs away from us, it hides, and we will struggle forever if all we do is chase it.
However, to be honorable, compassionate, and useful are actions that we can choose to do. Once we have chosen to do something and we feel that purpose, it will create the happiness that we seek. If we wake up in the morning and know that we are making a difference, we can’t help but feel happy. When we are honorable and stick to our personal morals, we feel happy. Then, when put aside our pride and show compassion to another, we will rejoice in the feeling of caring.
So instead of chasing happiness, be still and choose to be something. When we are concentrating on having a purpose, we will stumble into happiness. It will find us and we do not need to find it. The goal of life may seem to be happiness, but we need to figure out how to achieve it without chasing it. We have to build the ladder before we start crawling to the top, and the ladder of happiness is composed of honor, compassion, usefulness, and living well.