Why do we experience such a disconnect between what we know to be true in the abstract and what we believe is true for us? I think a big part of the answer is that our choices are driven not by fame or fortune but by the pursuit of happiness itself–and we’re going about it in the wrong way, because we’re not sure what better alternatives exist. We buy things and experiences that might bring us some momentary feelings of delight and cheer. But will they truly bring us deeper feelings of happiness and satisfaction with our lives–the feeling that our life is, in the end, meaningful?
Psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues have tried to distinguish between lives high on happiness and lives full of meaning. By their definition, happiness is a positive feeling or emotion. We say we are happy when things are going well for us, when we are feeling more positive emotions than negative ones, when we feel satisfied with our lives. The time span of happiness is typically short: a good day, a stellar semester, a great year. A wedding can bring us happiness in a moment or a weekend, for example, because of the fun and love involved, because of the good food and good music and good company.