Life of ‘meaning’ or ‘happiness’, that is the question?

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The Great Divide: “How do the ‘happy life‘ and the ‘meaningful life‘ differ?

Nearly a quarter of Americans do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful.”

GOOD REMINDER, SPIRITUALLY

Shirlee Hall says: “Picture yourself as two beings, one the king/queen and the other the servant. When one of them expresses a wish, it is royalty who wishes. And the part that says, ‘I cannot,’ is the servant. If the servant has his way, then royalty is in the place of the servant. And the more the servant has his way, the more the servant rules and the king or queen obeys.

In this way, naturally, conflict arises and that reflects upon the outer life.

One’s whole life becomes unlucky. One may be pious or good or religious, it makes no difference. If we do not realize the kingdom of God within nor realize the spirit to be a king or queen, we do not accomplish the purpose of life.

Another way of addressing this common problem is to look upon your light, ‘spirit essence‘ as the host(meaning) and your ‘ego/personality‘ as the guest(happiness).”

“Who is in charge?”

COMMENT: Kristin Belle Knudsen “This is so clear–thank you, Dearest! I have been practicing visualizing my Higher Self as taking my human self by the hand and guiding me. I remember once, long long ago, when you told me to “Do it like a queen; do it like a Daughter of The Light,,” when I faced a very difficult task. I recall that counsel often.” Deep Love and Gratitude

~ Shirlee Hall, Be Healed Forever

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EXCERPTS of EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH says:

“This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude.

rose on fence

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”

This is why some researchers are cautioning against the pursuit of mere happiness. In a new study, which will be published this year in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Positive Psychology, psychological scientists asked nearly 400 Americans aged 18 to 78 whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy. Examining their self-reported attitudes toward meaning, happiness, and many other variables — like stress levels, spending patterns, and having children — over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different.

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.

How do the happy life and the meaningful life differ? Happiness, they found, is about feeling good. Specifically, the researchers found that people who are happy tend to think that life is easy, they are in good physical health, and they are able to buy the things that they need and want. While not having enough money decreases how happy and meaningful you consider your life to be, it has a much greater impact on happiness.

“The happy life is also defined by a lack of stress or worry.”

Most importantly from a social perspective, the pursuit of happiness is associated with selfish behavior — being, as mentioned, a “taker” rather than a “giver.”

The psychologists give an evolutionary explanation for this: happiness is about drive reduction. If you have a need or a desire — like hunger — you satisfy it, and that makes you happy. People become happy, in other words, when they get what they want. Humans, then, are not the only ones who can feel happy. Animals have needs and drives, too, and when those drives are satisfied, animals also feel happy, the researchers point out.

“People living ‘happy lives‘ 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. “If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need,” the researchers write.

What sets human beings apart from animals is not the pursuit of happiness, which occurs all across the natural world, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans, according to Roy Baumeister, the lead researcher of the study and author, with John Tierney, of the recent book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Baumeister, a social psychologists at Florida State University, was named an ISI highly cited scientific researcher in 2003.

In 1991, the Library of Congress and Book-of-the-Month Club listed Man’s Search for Meaning as one of the 10 most influential books in the United States. It has sold millions of copies worldwide. Now, over twenty years later, the book’s ethos — its emphasis on meaning, the value of suffering, and responsibility to something greater than the self — seems to be at odds with our culture, which is more interested in the pursuit of individual happiness than in the search for ‘meaning‘.

“Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others.

This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy,” Baumeister told me in an interview.

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.

ROSE FADINGHaving 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.

“If there is meaning in life at all,” Frankl wrote, “then there must be meaning in suffering.”

“To the European,” Frankl wrote, “it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.'”

The wisdom that Frankl derived from his experiences there, in the middle of unimaginable human suffering, is just as relevant now as it was then: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself — be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is.”

Baumeister and his colleagues would agree that the pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human. By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves — by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking” — we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than ‘the pursuit of simple happiness’.

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”

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