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Three Ingredients of Happiness


Explanations > Emotions > Happiness > Three Ingredients of Happiness

Meaning | Hope | Purpose | So what


Wilson (2011) points to three ingredients of happiness: Meaning, Hope and Purpose. Here's a discussion of each.


We seek meaning in our lives, what happens around us and and in the things we do. A way we explain this is by using stories that we tell ourselves and that we share with (and accept from) others. Wilson notes that we have core narratives, fundamental stories that are closely allied with strong beliefs, most typically religious beliefs. Core narratives are at the heart of cultures and are received early from parents and other authority figures.

When we find meaning, we are comforted. When there is little meaning in what happens, we experience negative emotions such as confusion, frustration and despair. We will even manufacture meaning to restore our sense of comfort and control.


We know that the future is uncertain, yet we hope that good things will happen for us and that bad things will be avoided. Hope can also be social, where people encourage each other by assurances that a desired state will be reached, even though they individually may doubt this.

When meaning is limited, we hope. In this way we can find happiness even when we cannot make sense of the world or where there are things that threaten us or our beliefs. Hope helps us when things go wrong, allowing us to find some happiness in trying circumstances.

Hope is at the heart of positive thinking and makes us more optimistic. If a person can stay hopeful, they can stay positive and in doing so become far more likely to achieve their goals and purpose.


Our purpose is what leads to meaning being achieved. It gives us energy to get out and make a difference in the world. It helps us make good decisions. It also enables us to communicate clearly to others what we want. Purpose helps us gain autonomy, effectiveness and mastery as we feel in control of our destiny.

Without purpose, we become aimless and lethargic. We may switch directions, change our minds regularly and even go around in circles.

So what?

If you want people (including yourself) to be happy, then check that they:

  1. Have a purpose and that this aligns with what you want them to do
  2. Are able to make sense of what you are saying and what is happening around them.
  3. Are hopeful enough to keep going when things are not as might be desired.

If in doubt, one of the most powerful things to do is to ask why. Why did that happen? Why am I doing this? Why is it so important to keep fighting?

See also

Meaning, Hope


Wilson, T.D. (2011). Redirect: Changing The Stories We Live By, Little, Brown


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