Type 4: Meaning and Purpose

With this happiness type, one creates a deep sense of joy by creating meaning and purpose. It is symbolized in the above painting with Expression and Service in the hands, as we act directly upon them. Love is over the heart. Discovery, especially self-discovery, is the solid foundation one stands upon. We know ourselves, but can see in the water that there is a great depth of yet-to-be known for us to reach toward.
This page is about the most effective, holistic, far-reaching and longest-lasting form of ‘happiness.’ In fact, it’s about more than simply ‘happiness’. Our ‘Type 4’ of happiness is about meaning in life. And yes, it’s the focus of this whole website!
“Happiness”, a word used all-too-frequently to refer to many different things is a vague and often-misused word. In fact, we’ve devoted an entire page to that semantic issue.
This page is about JOY. Here we will uncover the keys to a meaningful, purposeful life as a deep well from which lasting joy springs forth.
Hold on to your hats!

Why Meaning?

One of the landmark books of Positive Psychology, by the oft-cited ‘founder’ of the movement himself, Martin Seligman, draws attention to meaning in life.

The advent of Positive Psychology in recent decades has given us insight on what makes life most worth living.
Psychologists are looking beyond just mental illness, and asking the broad questions about the human condition that we’re all faced with:

  • What makes us happy? What does ‘happy’ even mean?
  • What behaviors and conditions do we see in those with better overall health?
  • What do the people with the highest reported life satisfaction and well being have in common?

There has been a swath of research, especially in the last 10-20 years, and the findings are gravitating around a central theme: meaning, not ‘happiness,’ is the key to a life well-lived.

If you’re more scientifically-inclined and want to look at the scientific literature, visit the Science of Meaning page, where you’ll find a detailed breakdown of important terms, scales, findings, and references.

And for a broad overview, check out the page ‘Why Meaning?’

A Sense of Purpose

As modern humans, we have been carefully crafting lives of convenience and pleasure. The fruits of our labor have resulted in less war, better physical health, less poverty, more education, and more. Despite most objective measures of human health dramatically improving everywhere, we seem to be depressed and hopeless. The suicide rates around the world may surprise you.

Emily Esfahani Smith, author of “The Power of Meaning” states:

“There’s an emptiness gnawing away at people, and you don’t have to be clinically depressed to feel it.
Sooner or later, I think we all wonder, ‘Is this all there is?’
And according to the research, what predicts this despair is not a lack of happiness. It’s a lack of something else: a lack of having meaning in life.”

Happiness, the comfort and ease we seem to be so enamored with in the modern world, is not actually what gets us to an optimal state of being.
Rather, it’s meaning that offers a deep well of life satisfaction and joy.

Emily Esfahani Smith’s TED Talk “There’s more to life than being happy” calls attention to meaning in life as the more-fulfilling, healthier, and more impactful goal in life.

Purpose, a part of meaning, is the motivator we need. It’s our why.

As Nietzsche famously said, “He who has a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW.
Whether we are comfortable or not, sad or happy, healthy or suffering, we need a sense of purpose to drive our actions. Having a sense of coherence and significance as we go about living brings context to our life, giving things real value. Without these things creating a sense of meaning, we can only get so far. Like our first type of happiness, ephemeral pleasures are fun, but temporary, and don’t create lasting fulfillment.

The 4 Cornerstones of Meaning

The 4th ‘Type’ of happiness isn’t actually ‘happiness’ at all.

And yet, as we journey through the semantic weeds of ‘happiness,’ that thing for which we’re all apparently striving, this is the crucial point of arrival.
Type 4 Happiness is actually Meaning in Life.

If you watched the video on our home page, you’ve seen how we make a distinction between Meaning IN vs OF life. And you’ve heard mention of the Enablers, the tools that we can practice to live more skillfully each day.
Most importantly, you will have seen that we break meaning in life into 4 primary Cornerstones: Discovery / Exploration, Love, Service, and Expression.

These are the essence of ‘Type 4’ happiness.
We’ll give a short intro to each of the cornerstones below, and we highly recommend that you visit each respective section to be taken on a journey of discovery and growth. Within each cornerstone’s section, we’ve collected resources, tools, models, and meditations to help you grow that cornerstone’s foundation in your own life.


Discovery is the term we give to when you are curious, and you act upon that curiosity. Curiosity stems from a zest for life. It is how we test the waters for what life is and can be. It gives us the will to learn and to see what is possible.
Even now, you are feeding your need for discovery.
One of the most gratifying and joy-inducing forms of discovery is looking inward. By spending time on this site, for example, you are learning about yourself. You are provided yourself with many questions, and even discovering answers to some of them. As you do so, you grow. This sense of heightened self-awareness is the process of discovery. In the right state-of-mind, you can equip it almost anywhere you go.
Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality.” –Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis p. 238
As you discover yourself you unfold the conditions and levels of what makes you you. This in itself is meaningful, and will help you become happier.
Oh…would you look at that! You’re doing it right now!


“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” -Robert Louis Stevenson
For the fortunate among us, our work is our service. We often find ourselves serving others in acts of kindness or appreciation too, like giving a friend a gift or helping someone with a favor. We do it, and it is meaningful.
Meaningful living can be found when we contribute toward a cause, or otherwise act willfully according to our values.
Having a strong sense of service-oriented purpose can lead one toward a strong evaluative measure of happiness. It’s when our ‘why’s’ align with our circumstances and are carried out in our actions. Seeing one’s own impact on the world and lives around them brings meaning to life.

Evaluative vs. experiential joy is a subject of focus in Happiness by Design, by Paul Dolan. He argues that experiential happiness is too often overlooked, and crucial for living a happy life.
“Life satisfaction is rarely considered in our daily lives. […] Happiness is experiences of pleasure and purpose over time.” p. 4
It’s true. And it makes sense to concern ourselves with pleasure from moment to moment.
But Service is where we can find a heavy helping of the other half: evaluative joy. The trick is setting up a life in which we engage in service, following our individual values, on a day-to-day basis or habitually, otherwise.
That is precisely why it’s so important to work a job that feels meaningful.
People who find purpose in their work not only tend to be happier, but even tend to be more productive.
Even day-to-day chores, providing little pleasure, can bring joy in the form of meaningful service. Consider a plumber: though the work may be back-breaking and unromantic, there is meaning to be found in fixing people’s homes. Maybe you know a happy plumber.
Service is also VERY much enhanced when it matches our essence with Discovery and Expression. When doing work that anyone could do, it may be a joy, and of service, yet not as fulfilling as the combination of those three cornerstones. When it comes to the cornerstones, combinations are greater than the sum of their parts.
No one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbor, if you would live for yourself. -Seneca
I slept and dreamed that life was happiness,
I awoke and saw that life was service .
I served and I saw that service was happiness.
– Rabindranath Tagore


Expression can be in itself a type of service. It is when we not only act according to our values, but also create value in the world.
Whether it be a form of art like music, poetry, performance, or a putting forth of our authentic selves, when we express, we bring authenticity into the world.
Expression can be a form of catharsis, giving us a palpable confirmation of our own existence, our freedom and autonomy.
It can also give us release, putting words to our emotions, or opening up to empathy from a friend.
When we express, we engage our creativity and imagination. These are some of the traits we identify with most. Expression solidifies our sense of identity.
Whether creating a work of art, pouring out our hearts to a listening friend, or even making choices for how to organize the bedroom, expression affirms our place in world. It outwardly and inwardly proclaims “I am living. I am me. I am here and this is my life. My life is as I make it.”

Our section on Expression has loads of tools and resources for enhancing this cornerstone in your life. Give it a read and see what joy awaits you through this cornerstone of meaning.


For many people, love is the cornerstone of the cornerstones. It is a massive ‘bucket’ word, holding diverse types and feelings. In Hebrew for example, there are at least 10 different words for love.
As you consider the forces of Love, it may become obvious that each of the 4 cornerstones have an intricate interplay. Love can be the inexplicable force that dictates our values, our daily lives, and even our personality. It can inflame our will to serve, to discover, and to express. One can have a love for knowledge and truth. One can also have a love for a person. Love, in English, can be for a non-romantic friend, a family member, or a spouse.
M.J. Ryan, author of Happiness Makeover, encourages her readers to expand their notion of Love:
“No matter our particular romantic circumstances, we are all here to love, to open our hearts to the majesty and mystery of the human capacity to care for and about other beings. Restricting it mentally to one particular form means we miss out on dozens of ways we could find every day to be happy. [So, she continues…] When it comes to love, the question is not whether, but how and where. How wide can my heart open? How can I be kinder, more patient with those I encounter? How can I allow myself to experience even more deeply the love of others? Where does the river of love want to flow now in me?” p. 107-108
Her point is simple: Love is everywhere. For all of the joy that it can give, it is wise to practice giving and receiving it in every opportunity that we can.

Our relationships with people are among the most powerful forces of our lives.
Research tells us that one of the top predictive elements to well-being and happiness is quality time with friends and family. It’s no wonder that we tend to feel love strongly, even if it’s the absence of love.
Here are just a few of the essential human needs (see Compassionate Communication) that love can help us meet:
Security, Reassurance, Honesty, Consideration, To Be Seen for Who You Are, Hope, Shared Reality, Understanding, Appreciation, Respect, Inclusion, Authenticity, Dependability, Acknowledgment, Compassion and Empathy, Intimacy, Affection, To Be Heard, Trust…
In fact, Love itself is considered a basic human need. So is Meaning and Purpose, which love itself creates.
Look at all the things which Love can provide!

Our section on Love contains chapters which are themselves deserving of encyclopedias.

There, you’ll learn the secrets of Presence, Self-Love, Dating, Communication, and more. For every stop along the way, we’ve gathered tools, resources, and exercises to expand your knowledge and enliven your relationships. Give it a look:

Type 4 Tools

Wow! You’ve made it so far!
Did you get here after reading through all 4 Happiness Types? Way to go!

To compliment Type 4: Meaning and Purpose, we’ve collected a range of tools for you to use: Books, Videos, Links and more.

Check out all the resources here: