Is Happiness The Most Important Purpose In Life?

People usually prefer being happy over being sad. In fact, happiness makes us healthier. It boosts our immune system, is good for the heart, and likely helps us live longer. So why wouldn’t happiness be the most important purpose in life?

Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘Is happiness the most important purpose of life?’ We also discuss another question as well, ‘How do you define success?’

But are other emotions just as important? Are other aspects, such as goals in life, just as essential?

Have at it, dear readers: Is happiness the most important purpose in life?

Related questions:  What is true happiness?  Why is achieving it so difficult?  Is there a limit to how happy you can be?  Why do we put up with unhappiness?


9 thoughts on “Is Happiness The Most Important Purpose In Life?”

  1. Cognitive psychology has mostly shown that humans are very bad and predicting what will make us happy, and thus we carry out actions or pursue goals that not only do not make us happy, but in fact can make us unhappy. This is in part because happiness is an immeasurable goal–how do we even know when we have reached happiness? What is “peak happiness?”

    I would suggest that the most important purpose in life (if there can be just one) is to figure out one’s purpose and how to get there. How do you want to be remembered? What kind of relationships and connections do you want to create with other people? What is your authentic self? Figuring out these things and then figuring out how you can best reach those goals and then carrying out actions to do so will certainly bring some unhappiness, but will also result in happiness that is organic and does not have to be chased.

    1. As an aspiring Christian, my purpose is to know and love God, neighbor, and self. Easier said than done. I’m willing to suffer for what I believe; but with suffering comes joy and peace. Is joy and peace the same as happiness? I think they’re related but not the same. Thanks you Rebecca and Michael for asking/commenting.

    2. Thank you for this reply. I’ve been teaching my kids the art of critical thinking and looking deeper. So much of our culture says “be happy” “find happiness” “happiness is the key”. But purpose far outweighs the idea of happiness. Happiness is fleeting and deceitful. What makes us happy today can destroy us tomorrow. I want them to understand true purpose. That by finding our “why” and living for our “why” we can endure any “how”. That when we are living our purpose true contentment permeates our entire being. Moments of elation, excitement and real intimacy fill our days. When living our purpose we gravitate to others living theirs. Since our true purpose never changes our choices are not fickle and what made us enjoy life yesterday will make us enjoy life today.
      Happiness is a false construct and one that has warped a society into believing “if I am not happy someone is at fault” A society becoming void of empathy and oblivious to seeking happiness at the sake of others. Purpose on the other hand is a personal and meaningful fulfillment that goes beyond our self and teaches us true altruism.

  2. I’d even go so far as to say that we should actively try to be unhappy — to an extent.

    While it is a natural instinct to want to be happy (at least it is with me) I know that I accomplish more, and become a better person, through overcoming obstacles and struggling against adversity.

    It is a constant balancing act for me, between allowing myself to be too complacent and putting myself in uncomfortable situations in order to learn and to grow.

    Part of the problem may be that we can have differing ideas of happiness: I can be happy with a full belly and a roof over my head, but I can also be happy reaching my potential and growing as a person. When the two kinds of happiness are not in agreement, what then?

    1. “When the two kinds of happiness are not in agreement, what then?” Lee, great question – it speaks to my situation. I often think my wife and I are a little too comfortable with “full bellies and a roof over our heads.” I used to have a dream of serving in the Peace Corps in the Third World. Now, my dreams are more realistic. My church is asking us to choose a mission for ourselves this year. My mission? To bring healing to everyone I encounter. Sounds a bit grandiose, I know. I can’t do it without God’s help, but as someone said, “nothing is impossible with God.”

      “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” – Mother Teresa

  3. One more quote comes to mind right now. “my soul is restless until it rests in God”. – St. Augustine

  4. I agree with what Rebecca posted. I believe the purpose of life is to find purpose. Being entertained is fleeting. Being happy can come and go. But a strong sense of purpose provides a deep, stable sense of satisfaction that endures regardless of the other fluctuations in life.

    I also agree with Lee’s post. It’s important to maintain a certain amount of discomfort in life. Comfortable people don’t change. And people who don’t change ultimately fall out of touch with what’s going on in both their lives as well as the broader world.

    Years ago I worked for the Minnesota Senior Federation and came to the conclusion that the passage of time doesn’t make you more conservative. It reveals how conservative (lower case “c”) you were to begin with. When you’re young, you are, by default, a product of your times. But, as time passes, are you open-minded? reflective? self-critical? adaptive?

    If you are, then, like one 70-something women I knew, you wrap up your day at Senior Fed early in order to attend a LGBTQ allies meeting. If you’re not, then, like a 20-something women I know, you announce to everyone during the 2016 presidential endorsement campaign that you will no longer be friends within any who was backing Clinton over Sanders.

  5. This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson fits here: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.”

    (Thanks to Fr. Bill Murtaugh in this week’s bulletin. You can read his column at

  6. On MLK Jr. day this year I saw this quote from him: “the end of life is not to be happy, nor to achieve pleasure and avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may.” – MLK Jr.

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