There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something. ~Henry Ford
I’d like to think that I introspect often and broadly enough in the different contexts of my life that I have consistent assessments of what I feel my strengths are and where I feel I need improvement. In the past few years I’ve realized in my pursuit of learning about psychology (vis-à-vis personal productivity) that many people do not provide the appropriate incentives to achieve progress in their lives. My theory is that everyone wants to feel fulfilled in life; everyone’s definition of fulfillment is as unique as the individual aware of his or her desire.
This all to say that my satisfaction in a specific job well done is derived just as uniquely as the definition of my life’s fulfillment, as a whole. Fulfillment is based on achievement, whereas happiness is elusive, dissipates quickly and sometimes with no cause, and can even come from doing nothing. As a society we want productive members, and fulfillment fosters that more than happiness can by coupling satisfaction with a sense of accomplishment.
I tend to think that the contemporary, popular psychology regarding happiness is nothing more than a farce; happiness is not a definable metric nor a suitable, sustainable life goal. Happiness should be scientifically studied, yes, but not merely used as a means for selling magazines (appealing to the unhappy with the hopes of a “happiness panacea”) and encouraging us to “feel better” about ourselves. The human emotional palette is far more varied and worthy than relegating our focus to only a singular, aloof emotion.
Fulfillment on the other hand is measurable. It’s a “yes” or “no” response to the simple question, “Are you satisfied with completing X?” Add enough of those yeses and you’ve got a fulfilled day, month, year and life, and perhaps someone who’s likelier to self-describe as happy than not. But, recognizing “being happy” is beside the point. Or, better yet, my point is that by doting on your happiness you’re not genuinely self-actualized (a la Abraham Maslow but merely disingenuously hoping to be). Why are we pursuing happiness (as the founding fathers so explicitly gave us the inherent right but not edict to do) when we could really be experiencing fulfillment?
I’m not being flippant here about the morass that popular psychology media has created by giving people the cure-all goal of “happiness.” I believe there’s a true place in science for happiness but it needs to be a broader framework of neuroscience not behavioral research.
I know someone will argue I’m waxing semantically, but I’m not. To reflect on one’s life as happy is enigmatic and easily externally refuted or damaged, whereas defining one’s life by it’s output and satisfaction in being truly productive in a manner you chose is of markedly greater value to the individual, and (I’m just conjecturing here) I think, for society too.
There will come a day when we realize that productive members of society are those that contribute to the greater good and that when asked if they know how to achieve happiness have an honest answer, “No, but I tried my best and feel damn good about what I’ve done.”