Recently there is a great deal of research and discussion about happiness: What it is, how to get it; and the science behind it. Happiness is terrific. We even get to pursue it as one of our human rights in the Declaration of Independence. We spend a great deal of our time trying to make choices that will lead to greater feelings of pleasure and well-being. Some systems of thought posit that greater happiness is the purpose of life. Happiness is important, no doubt about it. But happiness has so many meanings, it can be stretched to cover quite a lot of territory–from a good mood to the gratification of altruistic actions.
In fact, there is a deeper kind of satisfaction that may be part of an underlying motivation for many people. Given our capacity to imagine the future, we can foresee arriving at the end of our lives and looking back at what we have accomplished. We would like to look at the whole of our lives and say to ourselves, “I did a pretty good job with the gift of life and consciousness that I was given.” For each person, there is a unique combination of experiences and actions that would result in that feeling of a life well lived. Part of what makes our choices complex is that implicit wish to create a meaningful, as well as a happy, life.
Finding that balance between what matters to us and what we desire is an important part of developing a unique, mature, individual identity. Ultimately we are responsible for the choices we make and for their consequences, even when we cannot control those consequences fully. With this awareness we enter into the complex territory of constructing a satisfying life. Our best option is to recognize what we are trying to do, take the time to be reflective about our choices, and be honest with ourselves about the process and outcomes of our actions. Fortunately, we get better and better at this task, and we refine and develop ourselves as we go.