Don’t Settle for Happiness. Demand Meaning.

by bsrubin on December 17, 2012

I’m a huge fan of Leo Babuta and Zen Habits.  The Power of Less taught me the beauty of minimalism and how to be happier *because* I had fewer things going on.

But Leo just jumped the shark – and I want to call him out on it.

Leo started out with a self improvement mindset.  He set goals, tracked progress, and found ways to get things done.

Suddenly – he is all about not setting goals, untracking, and quashing the urge to improve:

“Quash the urge to improve, to be better. It only makes you feel inadequate.”

“What if instead, we learned to be happy with ourselves?  What would happen?  Would we stop striving to improve? Would that be horrible, if we were just content and didn’t need to better ourselves every minute of every week? Would we be lazy slobs, or would we instead be happy, and in being happy do things that make us happy rather than make us better?”

I’ll answer that.  The world would be a happy shit-hole if we simply accepted our present moment, lived a happy life, and stopped striving for improvement.  We would fail to create meaning and intelligence in the universe.  I fully agree with TIm Ferriss on this one.  Fulfillment = Appreciation + Achievement.  Just appreciation falls short.

“Do you know how cocaine works? It’s what’s known as a triple-reuptake inhibitor. It makes some of the happiness chemicals – serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine – cycle out of your brain more slowly, giving you wonderful feelings.

And - so what? You’ve got more happiness chemicals in your brain so you bliss out? How could anyone in their right mind think this is the meaning of life?” ala Sebastian Marshall

What if you achieve happiness naturally but stop giving your gift to the world?  Fail.

Deepak Chopra agrees:

The Law of Purpose in Life

Everyone has a purpose in life . . . a unique

gift or special talent to give to others.

And when we blend this unique talent with service to others,

we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit,

which is the ultimate goal of all goals.


Love your stuff.  Keep giving your gift of mindfulness  self improvement, and minimalism to the world.  Just don’t tell us that happiness is the meaning of life.  It isn’t so.

Let’s also encourage people to strive to improve themselves and the world.  And we will all be fulfilled.

Best, Ben


  • Ldepetrillo

    the intelligence we create in the world can be enhanced by an appreciation of the intelligence to be found in nature.

  • Rahul Bhansali

    If I’m to tell myself to constantly improve, I’m also telling myself from another angle that I’m not good enough.

    Brene Brown has a Ted Talk about this exact issue, and her work indicated that the happy people and the unhappy people had only one difference between them.  The happy people thought they were ‘good enough’ and worthy of love and connection, whereas the unhappy people did not.

    When I tell myself to be better, I find this comes from a place where I feel an inadequacy in myself.  I know that I am limiting my potential whenever I do this, because I’m fighting against the tide of my natural being.

    By accepting what we are, as we are now, we admit to our imperfections, which can be a painful event.  In vipassana meditation, by relinquishing the urge to control, and by simply observing ourselves as we are with equanimity, the true nature of our internal complexes is naturally revealed and its grip over our subconscious is then naturally dissolved.  No overt control toward improvement is necessary or warranted.

    To be better, more joyous, productive, aware, and present is already hard-coded into our being.  It is simply a matter of removing what stops us from being this way.

    By accepting who we are, observing it with equanimity, we open ourselves to understanding and awareness.  This has everything to do with self-improvement, because the person cannot help but become better, happier, and fundamentally far more capable of now choosing to do the work that is the most fulfilling, instead of attempting self-improvement as a reaction to a feeling of unworthiness.

    Here’s a link to the talk:


  • Anonymous

    Interesting thought pattern.  Is it possible to hold both things in our mind simultaneously?

    Belief 1: Everything is right with the world and with ourselves.  Things are exactly as they should be.  No need to improve and strive – in fact striving will be counterproductive.

    Belief 2: Everything is not right with the world.  We are not perfect as we are.  We should commit ourselves to improving ourselves and the world.
    It’s quite a challenge to simultaneously believe two contradictory things at the same time – but this duality of thought might be interesting to play with.

  • Kevin Vogelsang

    “If I’m to tell myself to constantly improve, I’m also telling myself from another angle that I’m not good enough.”
    “When I tell myself to be better, I find this comes from a place where I feel an inadequacy in myself.  I know that I am limiting my potential whenever I do this, because I’m fighting against the tide of my natural being.”

    I think it’s important to realize that these feelings Rahul is describing aren’t a necessary outcome of the desire to improve. The root of it comes from a subtlety that I think most people miss when attempting “self-improvement.” This will be a super dense comment, but here goes:

    Intentions organize consciousness. 
    If your intention is to fix your inadequacy, you will likely end up always beating your consciousness over the head with your faults–you’re organizing your thinking around something you don’t like about yourself and making it a centerpiece! Not good! This is what happens commonly when inadequacy is the motivator I suspect.
    But what if you organize your intention around a positive outcome you hope to gain? Instead of getting in the gym because you want to get un-[choose your inadequacy/skinny/fat/whatever], get in the gym because you want to exude confidence/health.

    This concept is probably not new to you (but it’s always nice to have a reminder I hope :)  
    And perhaps its not enough of a shift to do the trick to get one’s mind off of inadequacy. That’s why I say up the ante.

    I think the biggest problem is that people are actually often in the “self-improvement for masturbation” mode instead of “self-improvement with purpose.”
    You want to improve yourself?ok. WHY? 
    Most people have weak answers for this. “self-improvement” for the sake of self-improvement is a pretty hard-going task that usually ends up focusing on an inadequacy “i want to be better.” 
    Self-improvement becomes much easier when it is driven by the RIGHT CHALLENGE (a purpose beyond “because I want to make myself better”). When you consciousness is organized around the right challenge, these worries of inadequcy go away. In fact, maybe your inadequacies are irrelevant. You may never need big biceps, but maybe you and I need to see just how far you can take those triceps because those are what we need to meet our challenge.

    You are probably beautiful the way you are, but that does not mean you are ready to take on the challenges the world needs you to wrestle with. Self-improvement for the sake of self-improvement tends to be hard and potentially even a waste of effort.

    I’m definitely a big fan of the transcendent mindset you’re talking about. When we accept what is arleady there, we unlock a whole new way of looking at things and can create a better bpicture with what’s already there.

  • Kevin Vogelsang

    I don’t think needing to hold both ideas is necessary in this situation as I’ve alluded to above (so long as you’ve picked the correct intentions to organize your consciousness around), but this willingness to hold two ideas is something I’ve found to be very important. It’s a shame we often insist on reducing cognitive dissonance unnecessarily — particularly before enough evidence is collected.

  • Kevin Vogelsang

    It is such as shame to see many goal-driven people revert to “oh, it’s all about living in the moment” because they mis-managed their ambitions.

    I look forward to seeing this misguided idea die. Thanks for pointing this out to people Ben.

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