Tag Archives: Life goals

The 2 Mountains and the 4 Goals

I recently came across the concept of climbing The Second Mountain, via Optimize Philosophers Notes (check out my last post to know how to get access), about David Brooks book of the same title.

The concept is super simple, and yet profound. Haven’t read the book, but from what I have understood from the book summary, the achievers/actualizers among us, start by climbing the first mountain of success, happiness etc, which is what the society expects us to do, only to find the peak unsatisfying and wanting. That is when the journey to the second mountain starts. The peak here is about transcending or other-focused- bringing us joy, impact etc. The way to get to the second mountain is by fiercely committing ourselves- to family, a vocation, values/ philosophy or community.

This set me thinking. I have blogged extensively in the past about the four major goals of life (see for e.g. here, here and here). However, I believe I had been conflating the second mountain other-centered goals with first mountain self-centered goals and more focused or obsessed with the first mountain goals in general.

To recap, the life goals as delineated by me earlier were:

  1. Happiness (maximizing pleasure and ‘self’ focus)
  2. Morality/Integrity (living morally and ‘group’/community focus)
  3. Meaning (living authentically and ‘other’/ family focus)
  4. Success (making an impact and ‘task’/ work focus)

I would now like to conceptualize them slightly differently. The first mountain self directed goals, as per me, are :

  1. Happiness (pleasing self focus)
  2. Success (task/job focus)
  3. Integrity (authenticity /conscience focus )
  4. Meaning (fulfillment focus)

I want to contrast this with second mountain other directed goals, which as per me are:

  1. Joy (enjoying with others focus)
  2. Impact (making a difference/ calling focus)
  3. Morality (ethics/ altruism focus)
  4. Transcendence (beyond self focus)

I would like to relate the second mountain goals to following four types of commitments, as identified by Brooks, respectively:

  1. Joy – committing to family
  2. Impact– committing to vocation
  3. Morality – committing to community
  4. Transcendence – committing to values/ philosophy

And to be frank,I have been inspired by the ancient Hindu framework of four purusharthas or four major goals of life, which I believe is one sort of instantiation of the second mountain goals:

  • Kaam (the pleasure of giving pleasure) – Joyful union
  • Artha (the meaningful economic activity ) – on ground Impact
  • Dharma (the true moral nature) – Ethical duty
  • Moksha (liberation from trappings)- Ultimate Transcendence

Important to note the difference between happiness and joy; and also job/career vs calling. Similarly while someone may do good acts out of a desire to keep the conscience clean and retain a sense of integrity, better from morality standpoint is to be governed by what is good by itself and not how its making you feel. Bahgvad Gita sermon by Krishna elaborates on this point only – Arjun feeling bad on the battlefield, in anticipation of killing his family and friends, is exhorted to do what is right, and good for the community as a whole, and not what will make him feel right. Similarly , one has to look beyond finding meaning in life by living authentically, to coming to terms with absurdity of life and finding the existential courage to create a transcendent purpose. A buddha is self-enlightened; a boddhisatva keeps taking births out of compassion and is perhaps more liberated in my view.

I really would like to see empirical research done on 2 mountains concept and also on how the four major goals of life are related, but distinct. Also taking a cue from Hinduism, how happiness < success < integrity < meaning and Joy < Impact < Morality < Transcendence. I am intuitively reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy, with self transcendence at top, but not in the mood to expand it further. What is important is to move form theory to practice! So what goal are you committing to today?

The Four Kinds of Happiness

I have written previously about four major goals that one pursues in life: to recap they are Happiness, Success, Meaning and Morality. I have increasingly come to regard them as forming a stage wise progression- one moves from Happiness to Success to Meaning to Morality.


Aristotle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its important to clarify here that by Happiness I mean here pleasure or the Pleasant life, as contrasted with the Successful life, the Meaningful life or the Virtuous life. Refer the Life Orientation Profile by Paul TP Wong.

One can even say that initially as a child/ adolescent, one is primarily driven by pleasant life; then in early adulthood the focus is on achieving success; in late adulthood the focus shifts to helping others and connecting to a bigger whole (meaning) and finally in old age the focus is entirely on being moral/spiritual.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that thousands of years earlier, Aristotle too had delineated four kinds of happiness worth striving for, I am mixing that with the three levels of happiness as elaborated by Nettle in his book Happiness: the science behind your smile.

  1. Laetus: Happiness derived from material objects; this is the domain of material and sensual pleasures; its also the domain of felt emotions on a day to day basis. The idea is to maximize positive emotions and minimize negative emotions. People primarily driven by this have the pleasant life orientation. These are momentary feelings of joy and pleasure as per Nettle. I refer to this as happiness in the colloquial sense.
  2. Felix: Happiness comes from ego gratification, being compared with others and coming out on top; this is the domain of achievement and competition. There is a lot of social comparison involved; you evaluate your life with reference to the life of others. Life satisfaction is a construct proper in this domain, where you implicitly compare yourselves with others and having more money can help you feel better here. People primarily driven by this have the successful life orientation. These are judgements or evaluations about feelings as per Nettle; your life satisfaction arises from how you perceive you are feeling relative to others. I refer to this as Success.
  3. Beatitudo: Happiness comes from helping others, and making the world a better place; this is the domain of altruism and co-operation. The orientation shifts from self to others.  There is drive towards generativity,  of living a meaningful life. People need to feel that their lives have meaning and they are contributing to a greater cause. People primarily driven by this have meaningful life orientation. These represent higher level of meaning as per Nettle. I refer to this as Meaning.
  4. Sublime Beatitudo: Happiness comes from being a moral person; experiencing moral joy of being a transcendent person whose nature is unconditional love.  There is drive towards living life in harmony with ones deepest values. People primarily driven by this have a virtuous life orientation. I refer to this as morality/ Integrity.

What is interesting is that one can find tantalizing neural and chemical correlates of above four kinds of happiness, I am extending the FTI model of Helen Fisher to happiness domain:

  1. Pleasant life: Material pleasure is associated with Dopamine system. All sorts of pleasure or rewards are associated with dopamine. Thus pleasure= dopamine. On the flip side, endorphins that are anti-pain may also be associated with this system. The focus is squarely on maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Helen fisher also calls this the curious/energetic temperament.
  2. Successful life: Achievement and competitiveness are strongly associated with Testosterone system. All sorts of aggression and active competition can be traced to high testosterone. On the flip side, when the other party is too strong (say a predator), then if one wants to do something other than passive freezing, then flight or fight system kicks in and adrenaline (epinephrine) calls the shots. The focus is on winning/ fighting and succeeding. Helen Fisher calls this analytical/ tough-minded temperament.
  3. Meaningful life: Helping others and cooperation are strongly related to estrogen/Oxytocin system. All sorts of cuddling, bonding and trusting happens as a result of oxytocin and vasoprassin. On the flip side, I speculate that excessive self-centredeness may result in endocannaboid release and may also be part of this system. Helen Fisher calls this pro-social/ empathetic temperament.
  4. Virtuous life: Morality and integrity are associated with Serotonin. Serotonin is involved in both preventing harm and ensuring fairness- the two major dimensions of moral behavior. Religion and traditionalism would also be valid associates here. On the flip side, I see anti-anxiety GABA playing a role here. Helen Fisher calls this the cautious/ social norm compliant temperament.

To me the fact that one can come to the four kinds of happiness from multiple sources, vouches for their validity and utility; and the fact that we have some tantalizing candidates of ‘happy chemicals’ that can be mapped to the four kinds of happiness is another converging evidence.

ABCD and the Existential Givens

Long-time readers of this blog will be familiar with my ABCD model of psychology whereby I parse phenomena along 4 dimensions- Affective, Behavioral, Cognitive and Drive/Dynamic in nature.

I have also posted elsewhere about the four major goals of life. To recap, I believe that all humans are driven by these four major goals- Happiness, Success, Meaning and Integrity. If the parallels to ABCD are not obvious let me make it explicit.

The route to Happiness is via maximizing Positive Affect and minimizing negative Affect. Success is achieved by actively indulging in Behavior and by being engaged with the task at hand; Meaning is cognitively constructed and Integrity or morality at its core is about motivations or Drives.

All the above is more or less situated in the positive psychology paradigm, and the new Positive Psychology 2.0 looks beyond positivity to include existential concerns.

Now, I have been fascinated by the existential philosophy for quite some time, and have also explored its application to psychotherapy by Irwin Yalom etc. As per Yalom, we all must face up and try to resolve these four existential givens: Death, Isolation, Freedom/ responsibility; and Meaninglessness. All these are facts of life and we have to come to terms with them.

Death is inevitable; we can never truly get into the skin of the other, so existential loneliness also has to be dealt with; we are free to choose how to respond and that places a heavy burden of responsibility on us- we have to take ownership for our actions/ inaction;  finally given the cosmological perspective, our lives are perhaps meaningless- if anything we are burdened with providing an essence to our life(existence) , rather than otherwise.

Existential thinking is heavy stuff; but I guess all of us, start pondering such questions even when we are a small child; and continue revisiting them again and again, refining our tentative answers and resolutions to questions like these.

In the British school of existential therapy (cooper/Van Deurzen), these givens are seen as predictable tensions and paradoxes of the four dimensions of human existence, the physical, social, personal and spiritual realms (Umwelt, Mitwelt, Eigenwelt and Überwelt).

I find that fascinating. To me there appear to be two dimensions- one personal (Freedom/responsibility) vs interpersonal/ social (Isolation/ loneliness)  and the other Material/ physical (Death/ finitude/ embodiment) vs Spiritual/ psychological ( Meaninglessness/Un-Known). One has a focus on self , the other focus on others; the third a focus on the physical world, while the fourth is concerned with the spiritual realm.

And its easy to relate it to the ABCD/Four major goals of life:

The thoughts about Death (Physical) lead to embodied affective responses that can impact Happiness. Your behavior with others, whether you are able to connect authentically or not, determines your existential Isolation and loneliness (interpersonal) The interpersonal domain is also where you are able to taste your true Success/ Status. The drive towards personal Responsibility and freedom (personal) makes you moral and retain integrity. The recognition of oneself as a being striving for meaning, and impact in the real world, makes you paradoxically a spiritual person.

I like this marriage of Positive psychology and Existential Psychology and wish more and more people are driven towards the PP2.0 movement!