Happiness rules! Wait, it doesn’t? Huh?

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“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”
–Victor Frankl, Man Search for Meaning
I was a cheerleader for the first quote – happiness rules! Then I read a very interesting article that contained the second quote…
The article was “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” by Emily Esfahani Smith (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/) . The gist is this – a MEANINGFUL life is more beneficial to the individual than a HAPPY life. The article states, “Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research.” Well that brought my cheerleading to a screeching halt. The article states that approximately 40% of people have not discovered their life purpose. That is a lot of people who may have some problems now or will down the road.
So what is a happy life? According to the article, a new study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, states “Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a “taker” while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a “giver.” “Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” the authors write.”” REALLY? I never thought of having a happy life that way—it sort of blew my mind. Me selfish? A taker? I needed more information.
So what is the deal with a meaningful life? “”Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others,” explained Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study, in a recent presentation at the University of Pennsylvania. In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. People who have high meaning in their lives are more likely to help others in need.” The article also cites from a book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister): “Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.

Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. “Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life,” the researchers write. “Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future.” That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy. Having negative events happen to you, the study found, decreases your happiness but increases the amount of meaning you have in life. Another study from 2011 confirmed this, finding that people who have meaning in their lives, in the form of a clearly defined purpose, rate their satisfaction with life higher even when they were feeling bad than those who did not have a clearly defined purpose. “
That helped me reconcile the happiness vs. meaningful battle going on in my head. When I really thought about it, I think my current happiness stems from having a life with purpose. For the past three years I have had the great pleasure of working with a life coach to create a purposeful life. We have reviewed the past and what it means for the present and how it will impact the future. With her help I have designed my Life Intention statement as well as a statement detailing my Calling. These statements help guide me through all facets of my life, including decision making and relationships. For that I am truly grateful.
Do you know your life’s purpose? Do you feel your life is meaningful? It usually expresses itself through something you are naturally good at and thoroughly enjoy. Think about that and compare your current state to your answer to the above. Do they match? If not, it may be time to do some soul searching.
If you need some help finding your purpose, my life coach is doing a workshop in Santa Cruz, CA on Sept. 12-13 entitled, “Designing a Self Worth Celebrating: Are you living your life on demand or by design?” More information can be found at http://www.seachangedesign.com. I guarantee it will change your life.

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