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Modern day culture, philosophers, researchers, and spiritual leaders are obsessed with finding the secret to happiness; they have all debated what makes life worth living. Could there be a more fulfilling path? Is it a life bursting with happiness or a life complete with purpose and meaning? Is there even a difference between the two?
Yes, there is meaningfulness is derived from giving to other people; happiness comes from what they give to you. When people say their lives are meaningful, it’s because they feel their lives have purpose, coherence, and worth. However, the meaning isn’t something you either have or don’t have. It’s an approach to life – a mindset. People can choose to pursue meaning as well as happiness in their lives.
The goal should be to find meaning in things that are not tied to the finite material. Having meaning in life – serving something beyond yourself and developing the best within you gives you something to hold onto. Relationships can dissolve. Jobs can end. Money can fade away. What’s left when all else collapses is your sense of purpose, and no one can take that away from you.
“Whatever good or bad fortune may come our way, we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” ~ Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha.
Emily Esfahani Smith is a writer who draws on psychology, philosophy, and literature to write about the human experience. In her recent TED talk, Emily tells her story of how studying positive psychology led her to discover that there is a more fulfilling path than simply chasing happiness itself – The four pillars of a meaningful life.
Drawing on this research, Smith shows us how cultivating connections to others, identifying and working toward a purpose, telling our stories to the world and seeking out mystery can vastly deepen our lives. A message gathered from a 75-year study at Harvard University implies that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. The study shows that social connections are extremely essential for us.
People who are socially more connected to family, friends, and community are happier, they are in good health and they live longer than people who are not socially connected. Conversely, the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are isolated from others find themselves to be hapless, their health starts to decline earlier, their brain functioning relapses sooner and they live shorter lives. It all comes down to one simple point; it is the quality of your close relationships that matter.
“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” ~ Dalai Lama
Life is filled with ups and downs, and allowing ourselves to get vexed up by the knocks in between only adds up to the misery in our lives. Finding a way to seek meaning without focusing on whether or not you are happy at the moment allows you to find a solution that is not time bound. Instead, you look beyond what you feel; knowing that whatever you feel is temporary and does not define your entire existence.
Look for things that are bigger than what you are and what you know; seek transcendence. To you, transcendence could be reverence and spirituality. To someone else, it could be reflection and self-awareness. So, ask yourself this today. If you were going to invest in your future best self now, where would you put your energy and time to lead the life you want?
“Great love and great achievements involve great risk.” (from Dalai Lama’s 18 rules of life)