The whole idea of happiness and what it means to have a meaningful life is different for each person. Think what would make you happy. Typically, we put these ideas of happiness in two different categories. The first is the materialist category.

Materialism is often thought of in negative terms these days but it really is just something physical rather than spiritual or cerebral. It’s something that, if you could just have, then you’d be happy, something like a raise at work, meaning you’d have a little more money every month. That would make you happy, yes?,

If you could afford to get a new car, you’d be happy. It doesn’t have to be something you need but rather something you want. That sports car that is red and shiny you’re thinking “oh, yes, that’s something I would really like to have”. Or maybe buying a new home would make you very happy. Perhaps (for women especially) if only your partner would help more with the housework or with the kids? Then you’d be happy wouldn’t you?

Absolutely. It’s what is called the dopamine effect. Dopamine is known as the happy hormone. It is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is responsible for our bodies’ essential functions such as movement, memory, attention span and pleasure. The trouble is it doesn’t last forever. Think about when you’ve bought that something you’ve wanted for a long time; you got great enjoyment from it for quite a while but then as you got used to it then it became part of your life’s norms and you start wanting other things to bring into your life.

An excellent example of this effect can be seen in technology – that television you bought that was fantastic two years ago now looks old hat against the newest release model that does so much more than your former new one. There may be nothing wrong with your old one but it doesn’t do all the things the new one can. You want it. You buy it. You’re happy. Then a new wonderful TV comes onto the market. You want it … etc

This pursuit of happiness is in reality a pursuit of dopamine. The brain’s chemicals spike and you get that sense of pleasure, which is perfectly normal, but the problem is that if you live your life seeking nothing but this type of happiness, then you’re going to find yourself miserable as the spike ends you look for the next “high”. Sooner or later you won’t be able to get that next ‘new thing’ for whatever reason and dopamine addiction will lead to depression and a miserable life.

So are you saying you shouldn’t be happy? No, of course not but true happiness is something different. It is found in the second category of spiritual or cerebral happiness. The search for meaningful existence and a meaningful life, and that is found in all kinds of ways and it isn’t always centred on you and what it gives to you. Very often such inner happiness comes from providing happiness to others, performing service to a cause. It is more akin to contentment, peace, harmony, satisfaction derived from your interaction with others, your environment and being part of the universe. It is a sense of gratitude for what your life has given you and will continue to give and for the ability for you to achieve success.

Activities that involve the mind, such as meditation, listening to music or playing an instrument can also have beneficial outcomes, not only when it comes to dopamine effects but also for your concentration, memory and creativity.

As such, happiness comes from getting back what you give out. Some call it The Law of Attraction, some Karma. You won’t achieve your dopamine hit as a reward, in fact, you won’t undertake things in order to get a reward. You will find pleasure in doing things for there own purpose.

By living your life in this manner, you will find that you don’t need to go in search of pleasure, it will come to you. That doesn’t mean you will be happy for all of your life. To truly understand and appreciate the positive you must also understand and experience the negative, otherwise how will you value what is given to you? Sadness and sometimes depression will still be part of you but it will be because of being unable to attain your happiness through your actions. You may want to do something for someone that is beyond your capabilities and that may result in that other someone not benefitting as they deserve. That will lead to frustration and perhaps sadness.

So just because something is difficult and because there may be pain and suffering involved, doesn’t mean it’s not the path you need to pursue.

Have a look at my eBook: Happiness, Your Guide to Attaining It here for further practical advice on the subject.