Family connections is frequently cited as one of life's most meaningful experiences. Image courtesy of Stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net
I have admittedly written articles with the subject matter being how to enhance levels of ‘happiness’. However, after reading different materials, discussions with others and contemplation, I am more and more convinced that “Meaning” is a more worthy thing to strive for than being “Happy”.
What exactly does “happy” mean – in simple terms I guess it means positive or pleasurable feelings or mindset. There are multitudes of books written with the aim of convincing us we can be ‘happy’ most of the time, and that it is a worthwhile thing to go after. However, you may have noticed that lately there’s a shift in thinking, with more being written about a meaningful life.
Meaningful referring to a life that is filled with purpose according to one’s individual values – a life that’s purposeful with respect to what’s important to them. Therefore of course a meaningful life for one person may not be for another as we all have different values and priorities in life.
Also what’s meaningful for one at twenty may be much less important at forty, with values changing as we grow older and have new and different experiences.
To illustrate why meaningfulness doesn’t necessarily equate with happiness, I’ll try to describe what is important to many of us – though as I said – everyone’s values are different.
Family, friends, work (whether it be paid or voluntary), self-development, children, pets – these are parts of our lives that most of us value.
But what if a loved family member dies? What if a friend rejects us? What if there are problems at work? Obviously these occurrences aren’t happy events – they are painful and difficult.
If we were to have the aim of pursuing a purely “happy” life, ought we to avoid relationships that have the potential to cause us pain and grief?
Really, if our aim is ‘happiness’ then we would have no relationships or superficial ones that didn’t mean anything. We would not risk trying anything if there was potential for loss or difficulty. However, a ‘happy’ life without relationships or meaningful work seems unrealistic. What would we be doing? Floating around in pink bubble disconnected from reality?
It isn’t wrong to desire happiness. It is human nature. And certainly happiness may come. However, it is may go again or not be present for a long time. This is when striving for meaning may be a more useful goal.
What makes someone or something meaningful? What is meant by “meaningful?”
• Generally, meaningful means purposeful or fulfilling, someone or something that enriches our lives in some way. It helps us to grow as an individual. It means we are connected to people and our world in a way that enhances us as human beings. By enhancing, we are becoming ‘bigger’ in some way, generally with greater positive qualities.
For example interactions with others may make us more patient, teach us humility…
By contrast a meaningless relationship would imply there were no enriching conversations between two people – neither would grow as a result.
• Meaning can be found when there’s not necessarily happiness. For example when we lose someone dear to us, we experience pain and grief. Yet we travel through the experience and learn we somehow can go on – we learn how to appreciate human life more as we learn it’s transient. We have the ability to empathise with others who undergo similar experiences in the future.
• When things are challenging, we may not be happy, but meaning can be found as we learn skills to cope, we learn, we grow in qualities such as patience and discipline.
• A meaningful life doesn’t mean it has to be sad or painful however. Meaning if also found of course in the positives of relationships, during work we find we can comfortably do and enjoy.
But a full life necessarily entails a full range of human experience and emotions. Would we really wish to avoid all negatives and only know pleasure? By definition, pleasure loses meaning if there is no pain – we would have nothing to compare the positives to. Secondly, would we be able to empathise, to care for others if we didn’t know how pain felt – we wouldn’t be able to. Going through the full range of human experiences enables us to put ourselves in other’s shoes – and the more experiences we have, the truer this is. Third we would be shells of human beings, if we only knew meaningless ‘happiness’ and pleasure. Vacant human beings with silly smiles.
A richer life with all its colours may be more difficult at times but through it we are
Caring and giving
Embrace life, with its risks, rewards, opportunities for growth and for giving and loving.
A meaningful life with no regrets. A iife fully lived.