The humanist approach to happiness and meaning

For a humanist, there’s no one ‘meaning of life’. Meaning is not out there waiting to be discovered. It’s something we create. So, it is unique to each of us. While happiness for me is watching an episode of Star Trek, reading a good historical murder mystery, or walking my dog, for others it might be swimming in the sea, baking a cake, or listening to 80s music. We all have different tastes and preferences, different priorities and goals. Happiness is personal. 

‘The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.’ – Bertrand Russell

That’s not to say however that there aren’t common threads underpinning happiness.

At the most basic level, happiness can be defined by the absence of suffering. Although we appreciate that moments of discomfort or pain can bring about personal growth or periods of creativity, we all want mostly to be healthy, loved, comfortable, and at peace. 

Happiness for most people also comes when we’re involved in, or connected to, something other than ourselves. It can be our connections with others – friends, family, the man you have a chat with at the bus stop once a week – as well as our connection with other living things and the natural world. We are warmed by the joys of friendship, close relationships, and community, and we get a sense of being part of something wider.

Living well for a humanist is also as much about helping others to seek fulfilment and working with others to create a better world. It’s about widening our interests beyond the limits of our own individual lives and making decisions or taking action that enables everyone to enjoy life.

The meaning of life is to live it, as wholly as we can, as abundantly as we can, as bravely as we can, here and now, sharing the experience with others, caring for others as we care for ourselves, and accepting our responsibility for leaving the world better than we found it.’ – James Hemming

As humanists, we have a unique perspective on happiness. Happiness is punctuated not only by the ebbs and flows of life, but by our belief that this is the one life we live. It makes sense to enjoy life now and live it as fully and as well as we can.


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