Frances Moore Lappe just published a great article in Yes about what she sees as the missing link in our search for happiness: making a difference. She says:
If happiness lies in covering basic needs, plus satisfying personal ties and finding meaning, society's role is limited. It need only ensure that essential needs are met and provide opportunities to pursue personal relationships and meaning. Even a largely totalitarian government could do that.
But, if we add power to the happiness equation, our agenda shifts. Maximizing happiness then requires engaging citizens in changing the rules and norms so that more and more of us are empowered participants.
And, of course, joining with others in this exhilarating pursuit, we achieve a double whammy: Such activity furthers the widely appreciated relational and meaning aspects of the happiness puzzle.
I coudn't agree more. I know that when I'm feeling woolly and discontent with my life, and all the usual suspects - home, relationships, health, money - seem to be reasonably intact, I can usually trace my troubles to feeling like I'm not contributing enough, not making a difference. I want the sense of power and efficacy. Nice to have those feelings confirmed by as potent a thinker as Ms. Lappe.