10 Oct Trying to find the meaning of life? It’s here in 4 simple steps!
via Barking up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
There’s no shortage of tips about what brings happiness, but what gives your life meaning?
“Meaning in life” is one of those things everybody insists is vitally important — yet nobody tells you what it really is, and directions to get there never seem to come up on Google Maps.
I had to take geometry to graduate high school but knowing what a rhombus is has never helped me. Nobody thought it was important to teach me about meaning. Seriously, my air conditioner came with better instructions than anything that’s important in life.
Thankfully, somebody took it upon themselves to get to the bottom of this by looking at what the research has to say.
Emily Esfahani Smith has written a wonderful new book entitled The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters. And it has many of the answers we need.
So what makes for a meaningful life? How does it differ from just being happy? Let’s get to it…
What’s The Difference Between Happy And Meaningful?
People commit suicide because they’re unhappy, right? Wrong. They do it because they lackmeaning.
When they crunched the numbers, they discovered a surprising trend: happiness and unhappiness did not predict suicide. The variable that did, they found, was meaning — or, more precisely, the lack of it.
So there’s more to life than “pleasure good, pain bad.” (Sorry, Epicurus.) But that ain’t the half of it…
Research shows meaning and happiness can be at odds with one another. People with the most meaningful lives were “givers.” But those with the happiest lives were “takers.”
Best example? Parenthood. Cleaning poopy diapers makes nobody happy. Kids are really expensive. They crash your Mazda. (Sorry, dad.) My MBA friend Vlad loves his kids but also adds, “They’re definitely ROI negative.”
And the research agrees. Kids don’t make you happier:
Using data sets from Europe and America, numerous scholars have found some evidence that, on aggregate, parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness (Alesina et al., 2004), life satisfaction (Di Tella et al., 2003), marital satisfaction (Twenge et al., 2003), and mental well-being (Clark & Oswald, 2002) compared with non-parents.
However, I’m guessing you aren’t rushing to schedule a vasectomy or a tube-tying right now, are ya? Why?
Because as Emily points out, research also shows children bring enormous meaning to people’s lives. Getting zero sleep for the first year of your child’s life does not make youhappy. But as we saw, happiness isn’t everything. Parenthood is the ultimate form of giving. And givers lead meaningful lives.
So it seems we’re in a real sticky wicket here: do you have to be unhappy to have meaning? Thankfully, the answer is no.
A life focused exclusively on happiness is like that container of ice cream that quickly brings a huge dose of pleasure — followed by a stomachache, regret and a root canal. A meaningful life does produce good feelings — but it takes a while to catch up.
For a 10-day period, researchers told one group of students to do things that make their life meaningful. They helped people. They studied hard. They cheered up friends.
The researchers told another group of students to just do stuff that made’em happy. They slept in, played video games, and ate candy. (My guess is they probably also did other stuff the study did not discuss but to my knowledge, nobody got pregnant or had their liver explode.)
So what happened at the end of the study? Initially, exactly what you’d expect. The “be happy” group got happier. And the “be meaningful” group got meaningful-er. But three months later, things changed. The happy feelings of the second group faded fast. Meanwhile…
The students who had pursued meaning said they felt more “enriched,” “inspired,” and “part of something greater than myself.” They also reported fewer negative moods. Over the long term, it seemed, pursuing meaning actually boosted psychological health.
Parenthood can be a pain in the ass. But it also brings tremendous meaning to life. Don’t sell your kids on the black market just yet. Meaning is the tortoise. Happiness is the hare. You remember who won that race? Exactly.
(To learn the 7 step morning ritual that will keep you positive all day, click here.)
So over the long haul, meaning beats happy. But how do we get there? Emily’s book covers 4 things that came up time and time again in the research on meaningful lives…
Remember how it wasn’t unhappiness that led to suicide but lack of meaning? When Emile Durkheim, the father of sociology, looked at suicide demographics the numbers initially seemed all over the place and didn’t make a lot of sense. For instance:
- Living in a country in the midst of war actually reduced suicide.
- Being educated increased suicide.
- Jewish people were more educated — but somehow were less likely to kill themselves.
What the heck was going on?
It was about belonging. War is miserable — but it bonds people together against an enemy. Education often means leaving friends and family to go to school or that fancy job. Jewish people were educated, but they often lived in strong communities.
I am lucky enough to belong to a group that gets together as often as three times a week. Chances are, I’ll see Andy, Justin, and Charlie tomorrow. Bob’s outta town but should be back soon. And we’re still coaxing Drew to move back from Montreal.
What groups do you belong to? Quickest way to add meaning to your life is to see them more often. Not part of a group? Join one. No groups to join? Start one. It’s as easy as texting people to get together regularly around a common interest.
(To learn the 4 rituals that neuroscience says will make your brain happy, click here.)
Alright, so you gotta belong. But you can’t just sit around “belonging” all day. What do you actually have to do?
…keep reading the full & original article HERE