On Happiness

August 7, 2023

"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is,
but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked."

- Viktor Frakl, Man's Search for Meaning

The Meaning of Life

Meaning is equivalent to Purpose.

Instead of asking "What's the meaning of life?", a better alternative is "What gives me purpose?"

This can be a myriad of things. I like writing, I've found.


We'll discuss different types of purpose but there are some things that will preclude happiness it's good to be aware of. If you feel lost or trapped, this is a good starting place.


Setting boundaries is the first, most essential, step to being happy. If you don't communicate your needs, others will impose theirs.

Not setting boundaries subjects you to the wills of others, regardless of its impact on you. People will take advantage of you if you don't set boundaries with them, even if they don't intend to.

If you find yourself doing (unpaid) errands for others, feel like someone only talks to you when they need something, or are afraid of upsetting others, you're likely having issues setting boundaries.

"Stand tall, boy. Have some respect for yourself.
Don't you know, if you let people walk over you now, they'll be walking over you for the rest of your life."
- Back to the Future

Similar to any other stress, we need to remove what we can and reduce what we cannot remove.

Advice for Boundary Setting:

Scale of Personality Trait to Strictness of Boundaries

People Pleasing (5%) |----------Healthy Boundaries (90%)----------| Insufferable (5%)

Having no boundaries will invite manipulation.

Having too strict of boundaries will make you less fun.

Setting boundaries is about respecting yourself.


"Agency" is about how good you think you are at making decisions.

Having agency feeling empowered / in control of your life. You need to believe yourself capable.

Not having agency may lead you to rely on others to make decisions for you. This is another invitation for manipulation. It comes from not trusting yourself to make correct decisions, maybe because you don't like the decisions you've made in the past.

Having monthly goals helps build agency. More than anything, this is about trusting yourself. Small steps like this can help get on the right track toward longer term goals.

Agency is about believing in yourself.


If you feel directionless or lost, you likely haven't taken the time to write down goals. It sounds simple but this is very difficult for some.

Personally, I have a "Mastermind" group where we take time every month to set goals for the following month. This helps keep me accountable to my goals. This website is one of my goals.

This is cliche but make your goals SMART goals or they will not happen. Period. (Another cliche for you)

Additionally, if it is something that is going to or should happen anyway, then writing it down is a waste of time. It is not a goal, it is an eventuality.

I highly recommend making a 5 Year Plan. Monthly goals are great for small things but to really see progress in your life, you need to set and strive for larger goals that will take many months/years to achieve. This will also take care of the "time-bound" portion for you.

Planning is about guiding yourself.

Types of Purpose

Active Purpose

A body in motion stays in motion.

The first type of purpose is what I consider to be "active". This can be summed up to doing hard work and having pride in it.

A hard day of work, resulting in work you're proud of, is the most accessible way to feel purpose. Anyone can do this. Recognition from others especially helps. One of my favorite stories to tell is about a very happy, roughly 16 year-old guy I met. Let's call him Michael (because I don't remember his name).

When I first met him, he was a bit of an asshole. He was pretty grumpy and not very talkative until he started venting about his HOA. It went like this:

Michael: "I'm so fucking tired. I spent all weekend planting trees."

Me: "Trees? Why? Do you have your own house?"

Michael: "No, I live with my parents."

Me: "Did they make you plant trees?"

Michael: "No, the HOA did."

Me: "If you live with your parents, why did the HOA make you plant the trees? Did your parents ask you to?"

Michael: "I had to plant them because I cut the original trees down."

Me: "Why did you cut down your trees?"

Michael: "Because they grow these little spiky balls. The ducks in my pool keep choking on them."

I couldn't help but laugh.

Me: "What happens when these trees grow and make new spiky balls?"

He gave me a big smile.

"I'm going to cut them down again, of course."

Chopping down those trees certainly gave him purpose. Tony Soprano would be proud.

Passive Purpose

A body at rest stays at rest.

Passive purpose means enjoying the fruits of your labor, like our friend Michael watching the ducks.

Whether you're "taking" a vacation or "taking" a break, rest seems to imply selfishness. Passive purpose requires active purpose.

Take Grandpa Joe from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. What a piece of shit that guy was. Making his whole family work more to support him while he's perfectly capable and hiding it. There's clearly a difference between taking rest and deserving rest.

"To whom much is given, much [is expected]."
- Luke 12:48

Passive purpose is not limited to rest. There are plenty of examples: Peace of mind. Spending money. Hobbies. Free time. Essentially, allow yourself to enjoy things but work hard enough to feel you deserve them.

Social Purpose

This is what people tend to think of when they think of meaning. Love. Friends. Community. Religion. These are pretty self-explanatory.

"Happiness is only real when shared."
- Christopher McCandless

I'm going to take this time to interject and say how much I hate urban sprawl. Most people get depressed after graduating. I think this is because we get used to living in a walkable community and feeling like part of something - constantly running into friends. After graduation, we revert to our spread out lives and isolationism.

Almost everyone I know has depression or anxiety. We don't socialize enough and see friends sparingly. I think we need to be part of a community to feel whole. People can find community in a gym or a church but those are things you have to go to. Simply being close to one another in the flow of a clean, safe, walkable city creates a sense of belonging I seldom see elsewhere.

I'm coining communities that you have to go be a part of as "Opt-in" communities. "Opt-out" communities like a college campus or a walkable city are one of the easiest ways to feel social purpose.

Self Purpose

This is by far this most difficult but likely the most important.

"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it."
- Charles R. Swindoll

Perhaps a better title for this would be "Attitude". If you read "Man's Search for Meaning", quoted above, Frankl describes the gallows humor of the Auschwitz gas chambers. He goes on to explain no matter how dire your situation, if you have a good attitude, your suffering will be less.

I say this is the most important because you need all of these types of purpose to feel happy. Any one exclusion can get you down. For example, if you work hard and are proud of your work but you never get a break then you'll likely be unhappy. Attitude, however, is impervious to other shortcomings. You can have no other form of purpose and still be happy with the right attitude. This is a hard thing to comprehend but very impactful if you can internalize it.

Mental fortitude is invaluable.