Wait a minute! This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.

-Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime”

Have you ever had a moment in which you felt like you awoke from a dream, but the dream was your own life? Maybe you felt like you were on ‘autopilot’. Have you felt like you can no longer ignore that nagging emptiness that you’ve been suppressing for so long, because it would require changing your life? Maybe you can remember being struck by a sudden sense of meaninglessness: “What am I even doing? This all keeps me busy, but what’s the point of it all?”
Or, more likely, you haven’t had that moment yet, but feel it creeping up on you. Maybe you keep it at bay by staying busy.
[block quote] Am I “Happy”? Well, I know I’m not Unhappy. So yes, I must be happy.
I go to work. My job pays the bills. I have family and friends and I feel secure. I spend my time watching sports, because it’s fun and gives me something to do. Nothing is wrong. I’m not “unhappy.” So this must be what happiness feels like, right?

What is Happiness?

We have an entire section of this website devoted to that broad subject. Click here and you’ll begin a journey of becoming a pro on the subject of happiness.
In that section, you’ll find happiness explained in different TypesNot all experiences of happiness are equal!
There are myths clarified, current findings in happiness research, and straight-forward methods for living a more joyful life.
Among the most important content in the section is the page on Happiness vs. Joy.
There, a crucial distinction is drawn between the ‘happiness’ we feel from simple things (Type 1 and Type 2) and the JOY gained from living with meaning and purpose.

Both happiness and joy have their benefits. A life well-lived is a life enriched with both.
Happiness without joy, however, is a case of particular prevalence and urgency. Many, many people live without meaning and purpose, and it isn’t that they are seeking it and failing. It is far more typical, in our modern world of high quality-of-life metrics, for people to live comfortably and ‘happily’ but not meaningfully.

This page is about how happiness can hold us back from living a life of meaning, purpose, and JOY.

Research by Roy Baumeister, a Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, has shown there to be a drastic difference between a happy life and a meaningful (joyful) life. Their research identified five major differences between a happy life and a meaningful/joyful one:
  1. Happy people satisfy their wants and needs, but this is mostly irrelevant for meaningfulness.
  2. Happiness involves being focused on the present, whereas meaningfulness involves thinking more about the past, present, and future—and the relationship between them. In addition, happiness was seen as fleeting, while meaningfulness seemed to last longer.
  3. Generally speaking, meaningfulness is derived from giving to other people; happiness comes from what they give to you.
  4. Meaningful lives involve stress and challenges. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness, which suggests that engaging in challenging or difficult situations that are beyond oneself or one’s pleasures promotes meaningfulness but not happiness.
  5. Self-expression is important to meaning but not happiness. Doing things to express oneself and caring about personal and cultural identity were linked to a meaningful life but not a happy one.

...thwarts JOY

A helpful lens through which to assess the happiness and joy of our lives is the Bliss Map. You can learn more about it here.

As we move through our lives, our bliss map is changing. Day by day, month by month, and year by year the intensity of each of the 4 bubbles ebbs and flows.

When it comes to work, happiness can become a hindrance when we satisfy 1 to 3 of the 4 quadrants and we are content to leave it at that, neglecting what is missing.

– Many trade jobs (plumber, electrician, etc.)
– Installing solar panels (world really needs it…might not love it)
– Some forms of leadership, elected officials.
-People who lead because they must.

– Being a good businessperson.
– a well-paid, content, productive, manager
– Pop-culture journalists
– comfortable jobs with no desire outside of that
– a Sommelier

– overwhelmed teachers
– some tenured college professors
– working in recycling (doesn’t actually work that well)
– teaching arts (sometimes)

– Art
– Activism
– Non-profit work
– Camp Counselors

When it comes to work, happiness can become a hindrance when we satisfy 1 to 3 of the 4 quadrants and we are content to satisfy them while neglecting what is missing.

– Environmentalism
– Activism
– Politics
– Communication

– Musicianship
– Videogames
– Sports
– Art

– Sales
– Advertising
– A “Career”

– Teaching
– Bureaucrats
– A “Job”

Do any of those look familiar? Remind you of anybody? Yourself at a particular time?
4 out of 10 Americans “either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Yet more than that live so-called “happy” lives. Why?
The Bliss Map gives us a useful lens through which we can assess where we are and what we’re missing.
Fear plays a distinct role in our lives, especially when deciding whether to sit tight and be happy with what we have, or pursue our passions.
“I like what I have. If I try to do something more or something different, I could end up worse off than I am now.”
It’s an easy misconception that meaning (joy) can only be obtained through a dramatic shift in lifestyle. A lot can be done to add meaning and purpose to your life…this entire website is full of tools empowering you to do so at every level. Recognizing a gap in your Bliss Map doesn’t necessarily require you to quit your job, leave your community, and start over. Imagine your life as it is now, but with less of the things that sedate you, and more service, love, expression, and discovery.

A Story to Consider

Whether the story is true or not isn’t important.  You’re invited to consider it as a lens for your own life and lives around you:
Robin was a person like most people. Robin had hobbies…enjoyed time with friends and family. Robin’s job was fulfilling. It was just fine.
Robin went to work every day wearing a smile, because Robin had everything needed to stay safe, happy, and comfortable. When it was time to talk about the weather, Robin did so. Small talk was no chore, and no bane. After all, Robin was happy.
Robin’s job paid the bills. It paid for a comfortable house, a decent car, family needs. Heck, Robin was even good at the job. So Robin liked the job. Robin was content to stay there as long as possible. After all, Robin didn’t want to be unhappy.
Over time, Robin developed a sense that life was dragging on. Questions too big to ignore, like “Why am I here? What am I doing with this experience of living?” grew louder and louder in Robin’s mind. There seemed to be a hole in Robin’s life. There was even a feeling of added pressure — “Shouldn’t I be happy? I have everything I need. I take pleasure in my days. Isn’t this what everyone is working for?” — which couldn’t be silenced by entertainment or diversions.
Then Robin stumbled across a map. It was called the Bliss Map, and it was simple. It reminded Robin of some hard truths that were being ignored. Bravely, Robin ventured ahead with this new outlook, deciding “That’s it. That’s IT! I fill my days with happy meanderings and work that keeps me comfortable, but the fact is my passion has been hiding. I like my job, but I don’t love it, and it does somewhat little for the world.”
Robin realized that all the most basic needs were being met, but Robin felt very little sense of MEANING and PURPOSE.
So what did Robin do? Robin took less hours at work, and spent 15 hours per week volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation facility. This brought immense JOY, because Robin loved it and the world needed it. Every day, there was loads to learn. Robin’s work made other people’s jobs easier, and helped local pet owners. There was Service and Discovery in it.
Eventually, Robin got a job at the facility, and it was as if everything in life aligned. Robin’s job, how most of the week was spent, was well-paid, well-loved, needed by the world, and Robin was even good at it. Some days were hard thereafter, some were even unhappy. But the days thereon were meaningful, and for that, Robin experienced Joy.


Importance of Meaning

People who are happy but have little-to-no sense of meaning in their lives have the same gene expression patterns as people who are enduring chronic adversity:
Happiness is not the same as a sense of meaning. How do we go about finding a meaningful life, not just a happy one?

Strategy and Knowledge

High-achieving professionals seem especially vulnerable to dissatisfaction in midlife. Here are some tips on getting through it:
People living in small towns tend to be happier than those in cities:
View Article
Being busy / occupied and thus not focused on meaning/purpose:
Stuff in life — meditation on what you really want:

More Offerings

A site with similar offerings to this one, where science-backed wisdom gets you closer to a meaningful life:
How money became the metric to measure by in America:
Take this basic happiness quiz:
A movie about happiness as a hindrance:
I’m Fine, Thanks
A fascinating interview with the author of “The Happiness Fantasy” on the interplay between modern capitalism and collective ideas of happiness.
View Article


A classic song from the Talking Heads that seems to capture this state of Happiness as a Hindrance.

Is a lack of a mission what’s keeping you from finding Joy through meaning and purpose?

An artistic video by a friend of the site. It’s about the realization of going through the motions and ‘checking out’, then the work it takes to get back to yourself.

What are the societal spells that bind us into metiocrity? What factors in our culture create a low-level sense of happiness, keeping us from meaning and purpose?


“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” – Socrates
“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” – Henry David Thoreau
“Possessions are usually diminished by possession.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” – bumper sticker quote

“Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.
Sometimes we aim that violence at ourselves, as in overwork that leads to burnout or worse, or in the many forms of substance abuse; sometimes we aim that violence at other people — racism, sexism, and homophobia often come from people trying to relieve their suffering by claiming superiority over others.” – Parker Palmer
It’s not about the pursuit of happiness, but the happiness of pursuit.
“If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” – Brian Little
“So I suppose the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower?” – Anna Quindlen – A Short Guide to a Happy Life