Sometimes people who hold their lives to be meaningless describe them as “empty”, yet find it hard to explain what their lives are empty of. The reply is that they are empty of sufficient worth.
People who, following the loss of someone they love dearly, feel that their life is meaningless are going through a similar process; There was something valuable in their life, and now it is gone. They return to seeing life as meaningful when they recognize someone or something else in their life as of sufficiently high value.
Philosophers, researchers, spiritual leaders—they’ve all debated what makes life worth living. Is it a life filled with happiness or a life filled with purpose and meaning?
When we aim for a life of meaningful pursuits, we are likely to feel more sustained happiness and life satisfaction—even if there is some discomfort, sadness, or stress along the way—than if we aim for a life of pleasure alone. In fact, seeking happiness directly may actually backfire, while pursuing meaning may increase our health and well-being.
While there may be more to life than happiness, there may also be more to “happiness” than pleasure alone;
Happy people satisfy their wants and needs, but that seems largely irrelevant to a meaningful life. Therefore, health, wealth, and ease in life are all related to happiness, but not meaning.
Happiness involves being focused on the present, whereas meaningfulness involves thinking more about the past, present, and future—and the relationship between them. Happiness can be seen as fleeting, while meaningfulness seems to last longer.
Meaningfulness is derived from giving to other people; happiness comes from what they give to you. Although social connections are linked to both happiness and meaning, happiness is connected more to the benefits one receives from social relationships, especially friendships, while meaningfulness is related to what one gives to others. Along these lines, spending time with friends is linked to happiness more than meaning, whereas spending more time with loved ones is linked to meaning but not happiness.
Meaningful live involves stress and challenges. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety are linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness, which suggests that engaging in challenging or difficult situations that are beyond oneself or one’s pleasures promotes meaningfulness but not happiness.
Self-expression is important to meaning but not happiness. Doing things to express oneself and caring about personal and cultural identity is linked to a meaningful life but not a happy one. For example, considering oneself to be wise or creative can be associated with meaning but not happiness.
According to researchers, we should not separate meaning and happiness because meaning and happiness are inseparably intertwined.
People who reported more eudaimonic happiness had stronger immune system function than those who reported more hedonic happiness, suggesting that a life of meaning may be better for our health than a life seeking pleasure.
“Having a meaningful life contributes to being happy and being happy may also contribute to finding life more meaningful.”
But one piece of warning: If you are aiming strictly for a life of hedonic pleasure, you may be on the wrong path to finding happiness. “For centuries, traditional wisdom has been that simply seeking pleasure for its own sake doesn’t really make you happy in the long run.”
“In fact, seeking happiness without meaning would probably be a stressful, aggravating, and annoying proposition”
When aspiring to a well-lived life, it might make more sense to look for things you find meaningful—deep relationships, altruism, and purposeful self-expression, for example—than to look for pleasure alone…
Working toward long-term goals; doing things that society holds in high regard—for achievement or moral reasons. You draw meaning from a larger context, so you need to look beyond yourself to find the purpose in what you’re doing.
Chances are that you’ll also find pleasure—and happiness—along the way.
You may want to practice acknowledging people around you, engaging in personal interactions, and offering support to others when they need it. These high-quality connections increase your sense of belonging. You may also want to redefine the tasks of your job to fit your motives, strengths, and passions.
Recognize our place in the world—perhaps most importantly by nurturing our relationships and serving others—so that we bring more meaning to our lives.
“Each of us has a circle of people—in our families, in our communities, and at work—whose lives we can improve. That’s a legacy everyone can leave behind.”
Sources from Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley and Psychologytoday.com