There or Here

I just learned that today is International Day of Happiness. A few blog posts ago, I talked about living a life of meaning rather than simply a life of happiness. To follow up on that, I don’t think I specifically mentioned that having a purposeful, meaningful life is often one with great joy and happiness. 

This brings me to a conversation I recently had with my dear friend and old roommate, Josh. Josh posits that we basically know in our hearts who we are and what we want but we often take the winding, twisted path to get there. So where is there? Josh worked as a TV writer for many years. He learned how to craft an excellent script in perfect formatting, but always found himself lacking interest and concentration in the final product. He found great affinity for stocks, business, baseball stats, music, and numbers. He moved slowly. At times, he would argue that his research kept him inert. I saw it: when we were roommates, he would kick and scream at the thought of writing something with his partner. Then, he’d eventually stay up all night and do it, produce something great, and feel unfulfilled. One day, something clicked for him. He had hoarded files of articles about films and TV shows, people, media companies, and saw that there wasn’t much synchronicity among all of these entities. He realized that there was a need in the marketplace for a new kind of product and it hit him! He would fulfill this lack!

So it’s now been a couple of years and Josh’s company is gaining momentum. Josh has taken hundreds of meetings, become a virtual statistician, and seems more satisfied than ever. Is he happy? I’d say that he seems fulfilled. He has frustrations and bad days, but on the whole, he seems to really care about what he’s doing. I love hearing the enthusiasm in his voice when he reflects about the entertainment industry from a business perspective! He’s much more animated now when talking about scripts from the business point of view rather than the entertainment side.

How did Josh get HERE? While hearing his story for the last 8 or so years, I wonder if he would have found true delight if he had not started his own company. He thinks he’d be continually searching for how to get THERE when the answer was to really be here. He slowed down to speed up. He took stock of what his true passions are, was sharp to current trends in the marketplace, and gave careful consideration to starting a business. Each day, he is HERE with a good eye on what’s THERE. 

His daily focus, attention, and intention is to make decisions that serve him and his company. He’s become excellent at taking stock at what actually is rather than how it “should” be or worse, how it “could” be. Josh is a true intellect, someone who reminds me to stay HERE rather than waiting until I’m THERE. F. Scott Fitzgerald says it best and describes Josh and his philosophy to a tee. 

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

So happy International Day of Happiness, Josh and my other readers. May today feel fulfilling as much as happy. 

To learn more about working with me, please visit Coaching by Nina Rubin

The Short and Long Game of Happiness and Meaning

I recently heard one of my favorite authors speak:  Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis is a modern miracle, a gem, a woman who is wise and sensitive, offers timeless wisdom, shows respect and compassion to people, and offers just the right amount of comfort to grieving people and those suffering.  Among the topics in her wonderful talk in San Diego, one of the most important features I took away was that all people are looking for happiness.  But happiness, plain, simple happiness, is not enough.  It’s crucial to live a meaningful life.  Viktor Frankl wrote about this in Man’s Search For Meaning and Rebbetzin Jungreis sees meaning (or goodness) as a major factor to a healthy, purposeful life.

Just leading a happy life 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,” according to authors in The Journal of Positive Psychology. Researchers say that 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. To me, this is also known as instant gratification. 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. Martin Seligman, the Positive Psychology guru, says “you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self.”

I’ve encountered the question of happiness and meaning time and again.  Recently, I’ve been faced with the issue of personal suffering and sadness, and how that relates to both meaning and happiness.  Do I have to go through deep pain and sadness in order to appreciate happier times?  Can meaning and happiness coexist, or are they mutually exclusive?  Is there a shortcut or work-around? So far, this is what I know:

I know that I love laughing, joking, and being playful! These are fleeting moments that make me feel happy.  I love feeling deeply connected in a respectful and considerate way.  I love sharing my life with my best friends and falling in love. This is ultimate happiness!  These experiences give my life deeper meaning.  But, they’re not enough.  These are the short game.  To me, the short game is seeing only the immediate, small picture.  It does not account for the betterment of myself or my loved ones.

My long game is having these experiences in tandem with working for the greater good of my clients, my family, my friends, and my partner.  In my long game, I can see the forest through the trees.  The meaning of my life stems from reflective experiences when I think and feel, when I have choices, when I make decisions that are carefully considered. Conversely, when I make rash choices and don’t think about my actions because I’m caught up in temptation or my short game, I’m not living my most meaningful life.  It can be tough for me to navigate. Lately the short game has felt awful for me.  It hasn’t been fun or happy.  Yuck.  The short game has made me feel defeated.

Purpose/meaning is such an anvil. It can be unwieldy and heavy, and sometimes casts a dark shadow on the immediate relief/happiness I want for myself. For a short spell, I made long lists of my life’s purpose and what makes me happy.  These lists got me nowhere fast.  I was ruminating in my head and trying to get “there.”  Then, I realized that there is no “there.”  As I constantly relearn, there’s only here.  These lists take me out of the present and put me in my head (a place that already gets enough visitors).  When I remember to actually breathe and live, I experience joy, anger, sadness, confusion, loneliness, boredom — these are fleeting emotions that come in, I talk through them with my trusted circle, and then they leave.  I’m much more present this way, and this feels meaningful. When I avoid and deny my truth, it brings me neither happiness nor meaning. I live with the consequences of lost love and missed opportunities as much as I live with the excitement of learning strategy for a new board game and cooking BBQ.  My life is one of meaning as much as it is generally happy.  I have some serious (fun!?) goals ahead that are the long game.  In the short game, I’m trying to smile and laugh while accepting what really is, and that mine is a is a meaningful life with an eye on the long game.

*Special thanks to EB for talking this out with me.  Would love your comments.
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To learn more about working with me, please visit Coaching by Nina Rubin