Friday, January 18, 2013

Happiness, Purpose and Markets

Real satisfaction comes from seeking purpose and meaning, not happiness (theAtlantic):

The wisdom that Frankl derived from his experiences there, in the middle of unimaginable human suffering, is just as relevant now as it was then: "Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself -- be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself -- by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love -- the more human he is."

Baumeister and his colleagues would agree that the pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human. By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves -- by devoting our lives to "giving" rather than "taking" -- we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.
While others might think that this captures a fundamental flaw in markets, I'd suggest the opposite.

Markets, if anything, are better at this than other systems as they do a much better job at guiding us to see what others and society believes is important. Indeed, I'd suggest that when we seek meaning and achieve purpose while meeting the needs of others, it is here, where the wealth created is reinforcing in a virtuous cycle.

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