happiness as purpose

happiness as purpose

Many people mention happiness as something they strive for in life. But “being happy” as a person’s purpose in life may encompass a variety of manifestations, and it may result in different consequences (Kagan & Moran, 2016). Purpose is a meaningful life aim a person engages in intentionally that has a beyond-the-self-impact (Damon, Menon, & Bronk, 2003).

Happiness is defined as a type of well-being, which then has two categories: hedonic and eudaimonic (Ryan & Deci, 2001). The hedonic perspective claims that happiness occurs when maximizing pleasure and feeling positive emotions (Baumeister, Vohs, Aaker, & Garbinsky, 2013). The eudaimonic perspective supports that happiness is found in personal growth through the pursuit of meaningful life goals (Ryan & Deci, 2001).

Consider the following two statements by American college students (Moran & Mariano, 2016):

“I want to be happy but also provide a new form of education to children… I believe that my current education back home discourages creativity, individuality and enjoying what you study. I wanted to use this as a vehicle to achieve happiness, because doing something I love will hopefully help me feel happy in who I am.”

“Don’t want to become a person who only focuses on doing better, becoming greater. I want to be happy at some point of my life.”

Both responses focus on happiness. However, the first person formed a personally meaningful life goal. By providing better education to children, as a result of having a negative educational experience, this person hopes for personal growth—for themselves and for the children to be educated. On the other hand, the second response does not strive for personal growth, but rather wants to feel positive emotions.

In relation to Damon et al.’s definition of purpose, the first person’s happiness is related to a developing purpose in life, whereas the second person’s happiness focuses only on momentary sensations. Therefore, when people strive for eudaimonic happiness, with a more long-term perspective, it may create its own momentum and a lifetime of happiness.

By Despoina Lioliou & Nainika Grover, Clark University, USA



Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., Aaker, J. L., & Garbinsky, E. N. (2013). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(6), 505-516. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2013.830764

Damon, W., Menon, J., & Bronk, K. C. (2003). The development of purpose during adolescence. Applied Developmental Science, 7(3), 119-128.

Kagan, R., & Moran, S. (2016). Happiness as a life goal: The smiley face reigns. In S. Moran, Ethical ripples of creativity and innovation (pp. 137-144). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Moran, S., & Mariano, J., M. (2016). [How service-learning influences youth purpose around the world]. Unpublished U.S. raw data.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 142-166. doi: 0066-4308/01/0201-0141