"Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it."
This more altruistic approach to finding fulfillment may well work – at least according to this opinion piece by Michael Steger, Director of the grandly-named Laboratory for the Study of Meaning and Quality of Life at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, in this weeks New Scientist. Steger plays on the dichotomy between two very different views of how to acheive happiness:- that expressed by Aristotle of maximising ones virtue or personal excellence and applying that for the good of the community, and that championed by his predecessor Aristippus focusing on the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.
He's conducted simple experiments that involved students filling in daily logs showing whether they had engaged in more virtue-building or pleasure-seeking activities which were then compared to questionnaires designed to indicate how happy they felt. These illustrated that not only was there no correlation between pleasure-seeking and happiness but the more virtue-building activities the students engaged in the happier they said they were, both on the day in question and the day after.
These are just correlations, as he points out, but they may hint at the bigger picture which is that virtue-building is an important road to happiness and is exhibited in the relentless pursuit for 'growth' in abilities and understanding which people typically show. Alongside the more obviously and immediately motivational pleasure-seeking and pain avoidance, this common drive for growth may also be rooted in our evolution. So the answer perhaps is in achieving the right balance between short-term gratification and investment in longer-term satisfaction and fulfillment. God, I'm such a hippy.