Giving, or contributing, beyond ourselves is one of the strongest predictors of happiness and health. It has also been pointed out that happiness, however important to us, is merely a beneficial side-effect of a eudaimonic approach to pursuing a life of meaning.
Connecting the ‘dots’
As argued here, if one connects the dots from the findings in various fields of happiness and well-being research, it turns out that there seems to be one common denominator for what people, across cultures, races, and religions, report as giving them meaningful happiness: it is that of being something for others.
To be or not to be – that is not the question
Realizing that giving, or contributing to others, provide us with sustainable and genuine happiness, we also realize that, apart from a few profound thinkers throughout history (for example, Socrates and Aristotle).
Some existential thinkers seek answers through faith.
“Faith” and “self-determined goals” can easily be fundamentalist or self-serving, unless they are situated in a genuine social concern for the whole.
In other words, to be religious or not (faith element), or to create your own story of your life or not (self-determined goals element), are not the most central question we can ask if what we want is healthier, happier and more meaningful lives. To give or not to give – that seems to be the question.
The need for a (new) philosophy and science of giving
That is, if giving, or genuine social concern – whatever we call it – is the most valuable dimension with which we measure meaning in our lives, we suddenly realize that rationality or any moral constructs, in themselves, have insufficient explanatory power when it comes to understanding meaningful and happy living.
Genuine concern for others may go to the essence of being human.
Being human in the truest sense of the word – that is, showing genuine social concern for all – might, therefore, be the most authentic “essence” of our being. That stands in contrast to being anything we “choose to be”, which is the other measure of meaning sometimes applied by existentialists (and pop culture).