Is happiness the meaning of life?

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

Happy, Pharrell Williams

Happiness = Meaning of Life

What would your maths professor say if you presented the equation: happiness equals the meaning of life. She would say, “prove it.” Since Year 12 Maths was not my strongest subject we’re skipping the algebra, still, can’t you feel in your bones there is something off about it?

Pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss, contentedness, delight. These synonyms are how we define happiness but do little to describe life or the state in which you’re aware of your own temporary existence. However, if someone created a quote that said drudgery equals the meaning of life, I’d nod in vigorous agreement. There is an awful lot of drudgery: tax returns, mopping, endless ads on facebook, data entry, blackouts, supermarket queues and way more.

If happiness was the meaning of life, your boss wouldn’t get all twitchy about WIPs, KPIs, PDs or getting you to do menial stuff they are more than able to. Your job would never be so ridiculous to impede you from achieving your own potential and realising universal truths. In fact, it would be just one of the vehicles bringing bliss into your life.

If happiness was the meaning of life, governments would not ban ecstasy tablets. For the uninitiated, it is a little pill that produces a strong feeling of ecstasy – hence the name. The drug ignites the synapses in your brain to light up with pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss and contentedness. In pursuit of this feeling which may be elusive in daily life lots of people end up buying drugs from dodgy bikie gangs, risking overdoses, rat poison and cut glass – all avoidable ingredients in regulated pharmaceuticals.

If happiness was the meaning of life, it would be instinctual to pursue it from the moment you are born. A healthy indulgence in the senses would be crafted in way we can only imagine. We would show our children all the ways in which they could (safely) find delight, joy and exhilaration. Instead, we create rules around how loudly we can laugh, how long we can play, what clothes we must wear to construct a person that may not be happy living in this style.

The meaning of life eludes me. But happiness doesn’t. It visits is briefly. Somehow, when a favourable state of mind is achieved or set of external circumstances changes for the best, the feeling swells up warmly inside. The moment is so lovely that the future becomes something exciting rather than fearful. For this, it is worth striving for. But, even in these moments, life still doesn’t make sense. And neither should it need to.

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Further Reading

Have a read of this exceprt from Great Issues in Philosophy, by James Fieser starts with a fantastic list of the most renowned approaches to the meaning of life in the western tradition, with insightful, relevant text. Highly recommended.