Most of us describe the ideal life as having both happiness and spiritual meaning. While happiness and a sense of meaning often overlap, they are different in many ways. Most people say they feel happy when life flows within their control, is pleasant and free from difficulty or trouble. Happiness almost always requires good health both mentally and physically. However, having an easy, pleasant and healthy life does not necessarily support a greater sense of meaning. Happiness doesn’t necessarily bring a sense of higher purpose to our lives.
People from wealthy countries tend to be happier, however, they do not necessarily see their lives as enveloped in higher purpose and spiritual meaning. In fact, people from poorer countries tend to see their lives as more meaningful because their purpose focuses on assisting family and community to higher quality survival. Contrary to popular belief, having surplus money to buy anything one needs and desires in life, certainly can bring joy to our lives and a purpose to have fun. However, having surplus money makes little difference to a sense of meaning and higher purpose in life—probably because joy is only one facet of happiness. While money can buy joy and fun, it does not buy complete happiness, nor does it buy love, nor a higher purpose of spiritual meaning.
The focus we adopt in our relationships makes the critical difference. Those whose purpose is to contribute to others without wanting equivalent reciprocation, experience feeling wanted, needed and connected to them as well as experiencing more meaning and love for themselves and others in their lives—but not necessarily more joy and fun. Those who use and take from others, tend to focus their purpose to experience more fun and joy, the consequence however is both reduced connection and feelings of love for self and others and lower fulfilment of spiritual meaning.
If you are a giver, doing fun things with friends will tend to bestow more joy, but may not generate greater meaning. On the other hand, having fun with loved ones tends to convey both greater meaning and joy with the flair of background love—a highly satisfying and compelling life. If you are a taker however, trying to have fun with loved ones can be most difficult and will be less satisfying than having fun with friends and strangers.
When it comes to dreaming about how to increase happiness, if we are takers, we may fantasize about having more fun times on holidays, travel, adventure and indulge in material excess, well removed from a mundane life of work and labour where giving is often a requisite. While these experiences increase the chances of having fun, it more than likely will not build a meaningful life. On the other hand, if we are givers, even the mundane working activities can add up to a more meaningful life, but if we continually dream of escaping our momentary circumstances, it may not necessarily be a happy one.
Complete happiness involves a balance in contributing to others to generate love, higher purpose and meaning, and balancing this with finding unusual and interesting experiences to generate fun and joy, preferably with those we love. Having enough money is a necessary part of this symmetry.
Most people’s obsession with happiness, searching here and there for bigger, better, greater fun and joy, is allied to a feeling of emptiness—reflecting a life that lacks higher purpose, love and spiritual meaning. People embrace depression and defeat, not through lack of life-skills, but through lack (or loss) of higher purpose and spiritual meaning across their lives.
Bill Giles is a scholar in raja yoga (yoga of the mind) and conducts workshops on practical techniques you can use to evolve your personal characteristics which define higher purpose and spiritual meaning in your life.

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