How to Find Meaning

James Titchener / @mistertitchener

When asked, "what's very important in life?" most college freshman put money above meaning.

It looks like our philosophy of life has become getting rich.

Maybe this shouldn't be surprising. This is capitalism at work, and America is capitalism first.

We see up to 10,000 ads a day.

Let that sink in for a moment.

10,000 times a day I'm getting ads for half-shirts.

Advertising is a war on multiple fronts, and it's showing no signs of slowing.

Facebook and Google cumulatively are worth over a trillion dollars, and they make almost all of their money from ads. Why stop now?

We're being programmed to think buying shit will make us happy.

It doesn't.

And while money can increase our reported life satisfaction, after about $75,000/year it doesn't do much for our day-to-day wellbeing.

Signs point to Americans becoming less happy. This despite years of new tech and progress.

What gives?

Maybe replacing Jesus with Ben Franklin was a mistake.

Religion 2.0

The religion of consumption is a losing game if it's happiness we're after.

I have reservations about organized religion, but I think these groups have something the many are lacking:

  1. a meaningful goal
  2. a community built around attaining it

So, what makes for a meaningful goal? And once we've found our goal, how do we mobilize a community around it?

To me, the first part is easy. Our goal is happiness. If the choice is between door A (happiness) and door B (suffering), we choose door A.

We want to maximize happiness and minimize suffering.

And we should do so for not just ourselves, but others. In fact, helping others boosts our happiness too. Everybody wins.

We owe it to those who are less fortunate to do all that we can to raise our collective tides.

For no fault of their own, millions of children die every year from easily preventable diseases simply for having not been born in America.

The role of luck can't be understated.

We can't control the situation we're born into. But we can control what we do with the opportunities we've been afforded.

And what could be more meaningful than helping others? And if we're going to help others, shouldn't we try do to the most good we can?

80,000 Hours is a non-profit and community dedicated to helping people find both meaningful and impactful work.

We spend about 80,000 hours of our lives working. We might as well spend this time wisely, and there are a lot of wise and not-so-wise paths we can take.

If our goal is to maximize happiness and minimize suffering for both ourselves and others, 80,000 Hours has sought to find the most effective career paths we can take.

They've ranked these career paths and created tools for helping you find a job that works for you.

And if you can't find an effective role that fits for you, earning to give is an option for just about everyone.

When donating to effective charities, even a little can do a lot.

I run my late dad's small audio software company, FxSound. While improving sound quality on PCs for millions of people is not a bad thing, I know our impact is not great relative to effective causes.

But that doesn't mean the money I earn can't be put to good use.

Spending on others not only makes the world happier, but it makes us happier too. It's either donate, or spend it on half-shirts. I'm leaning towards the former.

I'll be pledging at least 10% of my company upon liquidation. I'm also planning to use Donor Advised Funds to donate the majority of rest of my earnings and wealth efficiently over my life.

While getting rich to buy may not make us happy, getting rich to give could. And we won't be the only ones who benefit.


If you're interested in donating, the Centre for Effective Altruism makes effective giving easy.

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