We all want to win the lottery. Or that's what we think.
But all the studies show that that's not actually what we want. Today, we are richer - and more miserable - than ever before. It's because stuff doesn't actually make us happy; but it makes us think it does. Until it doesn't. And then it's time to get more stuff. That's true of all external things: money, materials, and comparison set us on an endless quest for more, and this "treadmill effect" has us on a lifelong road to no where.
What We Actually Want
In his New York Times Bestseller, Drive, behavioral economist Daniel Pink explores the science behind the things that drive us. And he explains that, for far too long, there's been a mismatch between what science knows and what society does.
The problem is, our society is rooted so deeply in consumerism. It makes us think we want more - no need more - to be happy. But what science unequivocally shows is that we all really want is to direct our own lives (autonomy), to create new things (creativity), to grow in our potential (mastery), and to improve ourselves and our world (purpose).
These drastically improve our performance and deepen our satisfaction. And none of those things are actually things.
The Search for Purpose
What we all really want is Purpose. But we have no idea that's what we want. We just know there's an uncomfortable, indescribable void we desperately need to fill. Because purpose is our deepest yearning to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. To do something that matters. To make a difference.
But every industry does a masterful job of convincing us that what we're missing is this delicious, shiny, or intoxicating thing. Those things temporarily distract us, and numb the pain, but when the anesthesia fades, we realize we're just as incomplete and unsettled as before. And maybe a little bit more.
Americans are overfed and undernourished. We have material wealth, and spiritual poverty. We are stuffed with pleasure, and starved for purpose. Purpose is our innate desire to create, and grow, and to serve. And unlike the lottery, you don't get here by luck. You get here by intention.
A Step Above Success
In his book, Intentional Living, leadership and business expert John Maxwell puts the same concept another way. What we all want, far more than success, is significance. We want to know that our lives mattered. And ironically, significance doesn't come from thinking about you.
The secret to a significant life is to 1.) know your purpose; 2.) grow in your potential; and 3.) sew into the lives of others. Living a life of significance gives you an unshakable sense of confidence, drive, and satisfaction. It is completely within your control, and it is the only thing that fills that gap inside of you.
But you'll only start to feel this way when you pull your head out of your own bellybutton, and start using your gifts to make a positive difference for others.
A Positive Perk
And finally, Mihali Csikszentmihalyi, the iconic psychologist most noted for his work in happiness and creativity, explains that you find genuine satisfaction when you 1.) identify your greatest strengths, 2.) use them as often as you can, and 3.) use them to make peoples' lives - and the world around us - a little bit better.
In fact, purpose is a key ingredient to positive psychology. So not only does purpose make your world a better place, it makes you a better person.