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.
Read more: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/?single_page=true#ixzz3TYYLraS2
To learn more about working with me, please visit Coaching by Nina Rubin