6 Steps To Achieving A Meaningful Life

By Dr. Peter M. Kalellis

Happiness is like God-given manna—food for the day given to Israelites while in the desert. It is to be gathered in grains, and enjoyed every day. It will not keep; it cannot be accumulated. — Tryon Edwards

Preoccupation with happiness has come at the cost of sadness, an important feeling that we have tried to banish from our emotional world. As we examine both the happiness and anti-happiness forces we will actually agree on something significant—that we Americans tend to grab superficial quick fixes such as extravagant purchases, exotic vacations, expensive restaurants, best wines to subdue any negative feelings that we might experience. Such measures seem to hinge on a belief that constant happiness is somehow our birthright. In reality, a body of research shows that instant indulgences do calm us down—for a few moments or hours. But they leave us physically unhealthy, and emotionally more miserable in the long run—lacking in the real skills to get us out of our unhappy state.

Happiness is not about smiling all of the time and saying nice things. Not everyone can put on a happy face for a long time. It is not only about eliminating bad moods, negative thoughts and judgmental attitudes. In view of the diverse human condition, happiness encompasses living a meaningful life, grateful of what is available to us, utilizing our gifts and our time, living with meaning and purpose. It is maximized when we also feel part of a family or a community, confronting annoyances and crises with grace. Happiness involves a willingness to learn and stretch and grow, which sometimes involves discomfort. It requires acting on life, not merely taking it in and being willing contributors or passive receivers. Humans yearn for happiness in a thousand shapes; and the faster they follow it the swifter it flies away from them. Almost everything promises happiness to us at a distance. But when we come nearer, either we fall short of it, or it falls short of our expectations; and it is hard to say which of these is the greatest disappointment.

In view of the above desires or wishes and the thousand more that could be added to the list, if we assume that happiness-seekers get what they want, the question is, will they be happy? Perhaps for a while they will be happy, but their happiness will not be lasting. Soon after they reach a milestone, they would start to feel that something is missing, and they will begin coveting another worldly possession or eyeing a social advancement or perceiving others as being happy. But such an approach keeps us tethered to the “pleasure treadmill,” where happiness is always just out of reach.

True happiness is to be free from anxieties and worries; to understand and do our duties to God and people, to be responsible citizens, to respect the rights of others, and to enjoy the present without any serious dependence on the future.

Here, six steps that seem to evoke happiness.

Persistence in pursuing a desired plan.
It matters not what plan a person pursues, as long as it is not destructive. The more passions we have—whether for people, things, hobbies, work or something else—the greater the potential to attain happiness. However, having a passion for something may not be enough. The goal that we choose to pursue must have intrinsic value and meaning in current life. Personally, I’m passionately pursuing writing psycho-spiritual self-help books. My measure of happiness increases each time I have completed a book. As a psychotherapist, I have a passion to help people take charge of their lives and move on to face reality with a positive attitude.

Pursuing depth.
As we mature, we need to take a serious look at our life and become emotionally, intellectually, morally, psychologically, and spiritually more wise. To attain a state of depth in order to enrich our life it takes effort and hard work. It is a struggle because of our human nature which seeks immediate pleasure, and our culture is designed to convince us that pleasure is all we need. It is evident that people who are able to transcend their nature and seek depth derive great happiness. Who is likely to be psychologically and spiritually deeper—the person who devotes time and effort to learning about herself/himself or the one who rarely looks within? Pursuing depth is one of the noblest goals of human life and it generates lasting joy.

Pursuing wisdom.
Wisdom may also be defined as understanding, as opposed to merely knowing. Knowledge is wonderful and makes us feel good knowing different aspects of life, but is not as valuable as wisdom which brings happiness and peace of mind. Computers contain tons of knowledge, but they have no wisdom. This can be true of many humans. A person can be a giant of knowledge but may lack wisdom. As we think of the multitudes of well-educated people today, we wonder if our humanity’s history has been the wisest. Could their knowledge have stopped the wars, bring an end to hunger and restore human condition? Yet all of us are familiar with people with limited education who possessed wisdom. It seems that some people are born with wisdom and others attain it with great emotional and intellectual struggle. Beyond doubt, a lifelong pursuit of wisdom yields more contentment.

Pursuing clarity.
It helps to understand ourselves and life. In modern psychological clarity of mind is a blessing. A large number of people walk through life with little understanding of why life unfolds the way it does or why they themselves behave the way they do. Yet, to understand why our life evolves the way it does is one of the greatest sources of happiness. As with the process of maturing and of attaining depth, the more we understand, the more we yearn. We want to know why at times we loose our temper, why we yell at a loved one, why we keep falling in love with the wrong type of person. Clarity may not be able to change everything that can happen in life, and it will not change anything that has already happened, but it can help to transform us from passive bystanders to people of action.

Pursuing goodness.
Being kind and doing good things for ourselves and others increases our happiness. Good people bring good people into their lives, and spending time with such people increases the joy in their lives. The peace of mind and sense of self-worth that we derive from the pursuit of goodness are unattainable elsewhere.

Pursuing the transcendent.
Throughout history most people have been acutely aware of the ephemeral nature of human life. We arrive against our will, stay on this planet a short time, and live against our will. Consequently, more than ever we need meaning that can come only from the belief that something permanent transcends us. Many will argue that religion contributes nothing in life and at times it tends to be harmful. But few can argue against the proposition that religion is capable of bringing more inner peace, joy and love. There is something in the human heart that yearns for meaning, order, community, and answers that religion uniquely provides.