Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) has an excellent personal blog in which he pontificates on life, the universe, and everything. GRS readers frequently send me Adams’ nine-step guide to personal finances. It’s good, and someday I’ll post it here. (I haven’t found the time yet.) Yesterday Adams wrote about his Happiness Formula:

Happiness = Health + Money + Social Life + Meaning

He noted that each component of the formula could be reduced further. For example, health can be broken into the following parts:

Health = Sleep + Diet + Exercise

Each of these could further be reduced ad nauseum.

Today, in response to questions about the last component of his Happiness Formula, Adams has written about the meaning of meaning. There’s a lot of good stuff here. (There’s always a lot of good stuff in Adams’ blog. It’s in my top ten daily reads.)

What does “meaning” mean?

When you serve a purpose larger than yourself, you experience the sensation of having meaning. There are plenty of larger purposes from which to choose: You can save the whales, feed the poor, shelter the homeless, march for peace, serve your notion of God, whatever. The details don’t matter.

[...]

I remember when Dilbert hit it big and it became clear that I would never again have to worry about money. It was a wonderful feeling, but it didn’t last. I went from happy to hollow with no warning. The first moment that I could afford any car I wanted, I lost interest in having a nice car. I simply couldn’t see the point, if there ever was one. Success is surprisingly disorienting.

One day, about ten years ago, I was alone in my office, sitting on the couch and reflecting on the fact that I had managed to become rich and famous in my dream job. For the first time in my life, I had no goals. And for a goal-oriented guy, that’s an empty feeling. Success was supposed to feel good and stay that way. But it tricked me. There was a huge hole in my soul. I sat in my office and sobbed.

Then the change happened. It wasn’t something I thought about. It wasn’t an indication that I am a good person or a bad person. It was just some sort of chemical reaction in my moist robot head. It was natural.

I turned outward.

And in so doing, bit by bit, I found meaning. I found ways to use my success to make the world a little bit better. It’s surprising how often the opportunity comes up. It ranges from personal favors to investment decisions to my choices to continue making a comic and a blog post for you every day.

I start work before most of you wake up because I’m a part of something larger than myself, and it feels good. I don’t work because I want more money. I work because it makes you happy, and that gives me meaning. And the extra money I make can be used to make other people happy too.

Adams says you have to take care of yourself before you can turn your attentions outward, before you can look for meaning. To me, this sounds a lot like Maslow’s Heierarchy of Needs: meeting basic needs leads to self-actualization, which leads to self-transcendence.

I know I’ve belabored goals lately, but they’re important. Goals are the fundamental building blocks of success. Even if your goal is simply to pay your bills on time this month, that’s a start. Success and wealth and happiness are intertwined. Life is not just about money. (Though this site is about money, and I promise there’s more ahead to help you save and prosper!)

[The Dilbert Blog: The Meaning of Meaning]