Would you choose greater meaning over happiness?
Posted September 29, 2015
Although we might think happiness – or the pursuit of it – will make us feel better about ourselves and our lives, research indicates that it’s actually finding greater meaning in our lives that, at the end of the day – or our lives – is more fulfilling. In Emily Esfahani Smith’s fascinating article, “There is More to Happiness than Being Happy” (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-th. she reports, “While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning. Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future.” We wholeheartedly agree, and have devoted our professional careers to helping to make that a reality shared by as many people as possible.
The Pursuit of Happiness
In the days of yore, our nation’s Founding Fathers included in the Constitution a concept that had been unthinkableb in all easrlier generations of all nations: “the pursuit of happiness.” But by today’s standards, in those days it didn’t take much to make someone happy: Freedom to worship however they wanted – or not, the right to bear arms in order to protect themselves from the French and the British – especially since there was no real militia, a roof over their head, food to eat, wood for a fire, maybe a little money from selling crafts made on the side. These things that we take for granted today were huge for the people who founded our country. Today, like yesterday, we are happy when our needs, wants and desires mesh. But the pursuit of happiness has become connected to what might be termed “selfish” behavior. In our consumer-driven society, it takes ever more goodies to make us happy. And happiness is, as mentioned above, fleeting. It is present-centered, present hedonism. The pursuit of happiness is, in effect, being a “taker,” in this new tech-centered existence.
Our Search for Meaning
Paradoxically, while negative events may decrease happiness, they may increase the meaning in life. Traumatic or emotional experiences can build character and teach us hard lessons that make us more compassionate and give us a deeper understanding of ourselves and others. When people who had a purpose, in other words meaningful goals which have to do with helping others, their life satisfaction is higher – even when they feel personally down and out – than those who did not have any life purpose. “People who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their life, though they were less happy.” Having meaning in our lives, in effect, is being a “giver.” Working through past grief, abuse, and failures should not just lead to regret and resignation, but rather resilience, resolve and even post traumatic growth. Especially when helping desperate others handle their suffering, we become hardier, and in doing so build up our grit potential. A survivor of the horrors of being interned in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Viktor Frankl, focused each day on finding meaning in his existence and in the future he would find when the nightmare was over. It is worth reading his classis, Man’s Search for Meaning.
Happiness versus Meaning
According to researchers, “Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future…” We add that it’s about living in the present and doing things that bring us temporary pleasure. In Time Perspective Therapy, these folks are present hedonists; living moment to moment, day to day, seeking pleasures and novel sensations. In their best scenario, they “make time” for friends, fun and fantasies. Back to the researchers: “Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life.” We beg to differ a bit. In our clinical work, we’ve found that in general, those with past negative orientations are unhappy because they are stuck in the negative experiences or traumas of their past; we call this past negative. Folks who focus mainly on the good old days are past positive. Future-oriented folks are the go-to people who get things done, who are achievement oriented; however, in the extreme, they may become workaholics. While we agree they feel their lives are meaningful, their future-mindedness can cause them to miss out on present hedonistic fun. How can we find balance – happiness and meaning – in our lives?
Living a Meaningful Life
In Annie M. Gordon’s article. “Take a Picture Today, Feel Happy Tomorrow for Greater Good”, she lists several suggestions to capture everyday events today that you’ll be happy you did in the future; here are a few of her ideas:
- Take a Photo a Day – or once a week – no matter what you are doing. At the end of the year, you’ll have a ready-made yearbook. This helps us find greater meaning in our lives that we may have lost track of due to the many activities and stress of day-to-day life.
- Capture the Context in Your Photos – don’t crop out the environment. In the future, the environment will be as interesting as the subject.
- Start a Day in the Life album – chose a day and take a picture of what you are doing each hour. A typical day may not seem fascinating now, but it will in coming years.
- Keep a Gratitude Journal – write down three good things that happened each day for a week or longer. You likely enjoy reviewing the all the positive things that occur each day.
The Time Cure
Finding balance in our lives – seeking happiness as well as meaningful experiences – is what our book, The Time Cure, is about. If you are stuck in the rut of thinking about all the bad things that happened to you, you’ll discover how to replace those past negatives with past positive experiences and start making plans for a brighter future. If you are present fatalistic and think your life now isn’t worth much and can’t be fixed up better, find out how to have some fun and happiness by practicing selected present hedonism while working towards a future positive. And if you are so future- oriented that you don’t have time to be happy in the moment, learn how to stop your pursuit of endless goals, take time to smell the flowers, to be more self-compassionate, to make someone else feel special, and to share your aloha with others.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, originally published in 1946
Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.
Siri Berting / Blend Images / Getty Images
If you feel lost or unhappy with how your life is playing out, the first step is to start thinking about what you value in life. Going through the process of identifying these core values can empower you to live a life full of meaning and purpose—sometimes referred to as “living intentionally.”
What follows is a mental exercise that is adapted from a popular acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) exercise to help you discover your core values and live a purpose-driven and meaningful life. Though this exercise doesn’t take long to complete, if done properly, it can have long-lasting effects in helping you to live a life full of meaning.
Identify Your Core Values
Your core values are those things that are really important and meaningful to you. They are the characteristics and behaviors that motivate you and guide your decisions.
When the way you behave matches your values, life feels full of meaning and purpose. When these two don’t align, you’re likely to feel dissatisfied with life. This is why it is so important to identify your values.
Your values are influenced by your life experiences and are, therefore, unique to you. There are hundreds of different values, but here is a list of some of the most common ones:
- Community participation
- Health/physical well-being
- Family relationships
- Friendships and other social relationships
- Intimate relationships (e.g., marriage, couples)
- Personal growth/education/learning
Write down every value that resonates with you. Feel free to add your own if your value doesn’t appear on the list above.
Be sure to only select values you actually have, not those you wish you had.
Rate Your Values
Once you have come up with your list, the next step is to prioritize the values. Take a look deep inside yourself before ranking each of your values in order of their current importance to you: 0 (not important), 1 (moderately important), or 2 (extremely important).
As you move through life, what you value may change. Or, if your values stay the same, the importance you place on them may shift. For example, when you start college, “personal growth” might be a top priority. But after you have a family, “parenting” may be what you value more.
Ranking your values in order of importance helps you to ensure that you’re spending your time and energy on the most important things in your life.
Set Your Intentions
After completing your ratings, pick one or two values that you rated as “extremely important.” If you rated every value as “extremely important,” go back and think about whether there are one or two values that stand out as more important than the rest, even if it’s only by a little bit.
Write a simple statement (one or two sentences) about how you would like to live your life in each of these areas. These statements, which are called intention statements, will help you live a more purposeful life according to your values.
Consider the following examples of intention statements:
- Work/career: “I want to fully apply myself at work and contribute my best.”
- Health/physical self-care: “I want to live with full vitality and energy every day.”
- Intimate relationships: “I would like to be a kind and caring partner. I would like to say supportive things to my partner when they are feeling down, and I would like to do things for them that will help make their life a little easier. I would also like to act as if I am worthwhile in relationships by asking for the things I need.”
As you can see from these examples, intentions are an ongoing process. They reflect the way you want to live your life over time. They are not just something that can be achieved or “crossed off” your list.
In order for this exercise to work, you have to be completely honest with yourself. Get in touch with your true intentions, not the intentions others have for you.
A Word From Verywell
Discovering your purpose and living life according to your values is no simple feat. It takes work and is not likely to happen overnight. Be patient and give yourself time to figure out what you value, and adjust your actions accordingly.
If you are struggling with this exercise, consider seeing a therapist that practices ACT. A therapist can help you define your values and pinpoint any psychological barriers that are preventing you from living a life with meaning and value.
The meaning of life is to live a life of meaning!
Do you live a meaningful life? Do you wake up in the mornings full with sanguinity and excitement? If yes, than bravo. You are not like most people.
Most people wish to live a life that makes them excited. They look at celebrities and they fantasize how their life would be if they lived such lives.
But this comes from the lack of excitement in their own lives, and the lack of excitement comes from the lack of meaning.
People look for meaning everywhere. In movies, in other people’s lives, in books, love, spirituality. But the truth is, meaning is something you create, not a substance you find.
That’s why people live without meaning, because the last place they look for meaning is within themselves. And that’s where meaning is being created.
1. Define what meaningful life is to you.
Most people dream about living a meaningful life but they don’t even know what living a meaningful life is.
The truth is, there is no objective meaning out there in the world we need to find, as far as we know. We, humans, are meaning making machines.
So before you do anything else you should define what living a meaningful life is to you, how would you define it.
Discover what has meaning to you, what matters to you. It’s much easier when you know what to chase. If you cannot find a meaning, create one.
You give meaning to things. So give meaning to things that excite you and chase them. You’ll wake up much more excited in the mornings.
2. Reconnect with yourself.
Most people don’t live a meaningful life because they have no idea what matters to them. And how can they know? They don’t even know who they are.
Connecting with the deepest parts of yourself is blocked by fears, past traumas, old wounds.
You need to face all these things to be able to be with yourself, alone, without distractions and know who you really are.
It might seem like a simple journey, the one within, but it’s a long one. However, it’s the most important one you can take.
When you know yourself you will know what gives meaning to your life. And knowing this you will be free to shape your life around it.
3. Eliminate unimportant time wasters.
Even if you know what has meaning to you, what matters the most, what your soul purpose is, and you spend your time and energy to unimportant things, it’s irrelevant.
You are responsible for your time and energy. You are responsible where you invest them. Wherever you invest them in that direction your life will grow.
If you invest them toward things that are unimportant, than your life will grow to seem meaningless and without a substance.
There are countless distractions in our modern times that it’s really hard to keep your attention unfazed on your purpose.
However, it’s necessary to invest your time and energy into the things, activities, people that give meaning to your life if you want to live a meaningful life.
4. Try new things.
When people say ‘I want to live a meaningful life!’ they usually imagine some epic action, adventure movie type of living.
But that’s just the idea they have about what living a meaningful life is. In reality, there is no definition.
It can be something movie like as an action, adventure movie or it can be something as simple as spending time with your kids.
That’s why it’s important to forget about the ideas about what living a meaningful life is. Try new things. Experiment. Play. The sole act of trying new things gives meaning.
You don’t know what might be the best thing you have done just like you didn’t know your favorite game before you tried it when you were a kid. So try new things.
5. Stop putting too much pressure on yourself.
And yeah, be more gentle with yourself. You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to live the most perfect life possible.
The truth is, buddy, nobody knows what they are doing. Nobody knows with 100% certainty what they really like.
So just live. Stop chasing to live a meaningful life and live a life that’s giving you joy and happiness.
When others go out and have fun, go with them. If there is a movie you want to watch in the cinema, go watch it. If you want to travel, go.
Free yourself from the burden of living a meaningful life. Stop waiting to find out every exact step and just live. You’ll see how meaning will find you once you stop chasing it.
Meaning isn’t something you stumble upon. It’s something you consciously build into your life. Its foundation rests on your experiences, beliefs, and core values. The people you love, the things you cherish, and what you’re willing to sacrifice make up who you are.
Each of us needs to reconstitute meaning in our lives. We need to believe in something. Fight for something. We’re all told life’s short and to make the most of it, yet few do anything about it. Are you living a purposeful life or are you going through the motions?
All the ingredients of a meaningful life are in front of you. Only you can put them into the unique pattern that will define that meaning.
Carefully read these quotes as they’ll guide you on your journey:
1. “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” ― Epictetus
So many people get caught in the trap of setting New Year’s resolutions . I say trap because it’s not like they came up with their resolutions on January 1st. They’ve known for a while, and they’ve been putting it off. They said I’ll do it next year. A better resolution is to omit those thoughts and the luxury of waiting and demand the best of yourself today.
2. “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between does what he wants to do.” ― Bob Dylan
Real misery is feeling like something was forced upon us and we’re not in control. True success is about choosing our problems. To create meaning and live life on our terms. The most gratifying form of freedom isn’t a life free of responsibilities, but a life where we’re free to choose our responsibilities.
3. “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people but care more about their opinion than our own.” ― Marcus Aurelius
The expectations of others are often crushing. One snide comment or dismissal can leave you feeling down or even defeated. Why though? What makes their opinion about us better than our own? Especially considering they don’t know our full story. They don’t know what we’ve been through or what we’re capable of accomplishing.
Remember, you’re not in this world to live up to anyone’s expectations just like they’re not in this world to live up to yours. The quicker we all figure that out, the sooner we can stop holding back and focus instead on doing what makes us truly happy .
4. “Don’t hate the game. Love the game, cause you’re in it, mate. Own the game.” ― Guy Ritchie
People take life too seriously. Treating life like a game makes it fun. The game of life has varying levels of difficulty, but if you take responsibility for everything you do and act as the master of your kingdom, then you’ll, in effect, own your life. Don’t let others choose your identity, tempt you with worldly pleasures, or tell you that you’re not enough. Bet on yourself every time and play the game like a champion.
5. “When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do? Memento mori — “remember that you have to die.” All of this will go to nothing.” ― Ryan Holiday
When faced with a tough situation, ask yourself, will this matter in the long run? Will I think about it a year from now? I bet the answer is no more often than not. If that’s the case, then there’s no reason to get worked up about it now. This, too, shall pass.
6. “If you are not falling down occasionally, you are just coasting.” ― Kevin Kelly
Anything worth doing comes with some form of struggle. Without risk, there’s no reward. Real growth comes from getting out of your comfort zone and doing things that scare you. Hard things. Things that may hurt you or make you feel uncomfortable.
Take this article as an example, I’ve been a big fan of Addicted2Success for years, and despite my previous writing success, I still found myself afraid of pitching this article. I feared I might not measure up to their quality standards. That I might get rejected or ignored. I can’t let fear dictate my actions, though. I can’t allow myself to coast. I have to move forward and accept that there’s a possibility you’ll never read this because it wasn’t good enough.
7. “The disease of our times is that we live on the surface. We’re like the Platte River, a mile wide and an inch deep.” ― Steven Pressfield
Everyone is looking for the shortcuts and cheat codes to a better life. We all want to be the noun without doing the verb. We all do the surface stuff instead of putting in the kind of work that produces something of real value. Real satisfaction and meaning come from diving deep into your craft. Opt for a few close friends rather than a few thousand acquaintances. Spend more time creating than consuming while you’re at it.
8. “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” ― Seth Godin
Too many people fantasize about a better life. They plan vacations so they can escape reality. They browse social media to avoid the life they’ve created. They’re trapped in their heads, believing they’re helpless to create the change necessary to live a fulfilling life. A better solution is to design the life you’ve always dreamed of and lay a single brick each day until you’ve built it.
9. “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” ― Albert Camus.
Happiness is not something you find. It’s something you do. Happiness, much like misery, is a choice. Do you want to know why people are grumpy, negative, and have a bad attitude? Because it’s easier.
It’s easier to be sad then it is to be happy, and it’s easier to keep searching than it is to decide today that you’re going to see things differently. It’s harder to give people the benefit of the doubt or smile when you’re not feeling your best. Like a habit, though, it gets easier with time.
10. “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” ― Lin Yutang
We say yes too much, and as a result, we’re all overcommitted and overworked. Feeling spread thin is a sure-fire way to feel unfulfilled. On the other hand, cutting your level of commitments in half can leave you feeling rejuvenated and gratified. Decide to let go of what ails you.
Chances are you’ve made many commitments to others and yourself. You made promises you never fulfilled. It’s time to realize you can’t do it all. You can’t make everyone happy. Take a step back and focus on creating meaning through the art of subtraction. Say yes to what you truly want by saying no more often.
How to use quotes to engage and motivate children and teens.
What is an inspirational quote? A great quote provides moments of learning and understanding.
Inspirational quotes by famous and not-so-famous people have an uncanny ability to stop and make us think about ourselves and others in new and different ways. A quote can make us feel differently too—often evoking a smile, a tear, or a heartfelt memory.
In today’s digital world, adults have discovered an intense interest in inspirational quotes and share quotes widely on social media. Why? Because quotes contain deep seeds of meaning.
Often, quotes help us make sense of the social, cultural, and political culture of our times. They inspire us to live up to our ideals, remind us of our humanity, and enrich our understanding of ourselves.
Inspirational quotes are not just for adults. Quotes can also inspire children and teens to become their best selves.
The story of childhood and adolescence is an interior journey of self-discovery and growth. We know that when parents, teachers, and adult mentors stimulate children’s inner worlds, young people become more self-aware. They begin to make sense of the connections between their thoughts, feelings, and sensations. These connections stimulate the brain’s neuroplasticity and are critical to a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive learning.
Children find meaning and purpose in life in many ways. Reading and contemplating an inspirational quote is much like exploring the underlying messages of music or poetry. Children need to experience motivational quotes in the same way children need poetry. Poetry has developmental benefits, including fostering a child’s language skills, creativity, and self-expression.
Inspirational quotes are rich repositories of information where intimate thoughts and feelings can be stimulated. Quotes, like poetry, compress ideas and at the same time expand children’s abilities to ponder and appreciate them.
When we engage children and teens with meaningful quotes, we can help them change themselves and the world around them. Think of quotes as teaching tools—not to tell kids how to live, but to engage them in understanding the why of their lives.
Sharing inspirational quotes with kids is a way to help them think and feel deeply, to find meaning and purpose in ideas that make a difference to themselves and society. Quotes can help children discover their identities and find their own voices; they elicit stories that help kids connect to others.
What Kind of Quotes Resonate With Kids?
If you search the internet, you can find millions of inspirational quotes—quotes about success, learning, wisdom, friendship, and much more. The challenge is to find quotes that resonate with children and teens in ways that engage them at their unique developmental levels.
When quotes are too dense or difficult, children’s appreciation of them is diminished. The best inspirational quotes for children should:
- Illustrate simple, understandable ideas.
- Illuminate common experiences.
- Provoke age-appropriate responses.
- Support the goals of positive youth development.
How Families Can Engage Children With Inspirational Quotes
Some families discuss quotes over a weekly meal; others at a weekly family meeting. The beauty of motivating quotes is that they elicit different meanings for different people, so there are no right and wrong answers at any age.
Conversations about inspirational quotes provide great opportunities for families to practice listening to each other in new ways. Together, families might memorize their favorite quotes and post them in a special place. When daily interactions, challenges, and conversations emerge that call for inspiration, parents and children can reach to their memory banks or a bulletin board for a quote that is applicable to the situation at hand.
How Inspiring Quotes Can Be Used in Classrooms
Many teachers incorporate the use of quotes in their classrooms. Steve Reifman, an elementary school teacher and passionate advocate for using quotes in the classroom said, “I realized that quotes had the power to inspire and to help me in my efforts to build character in children.” He began researching quotes and incorporating them into his morning classroom routine.
“I found that discussing quotes,” he said, “brought out the best in kids, started our day on a positive note, and offered a natural way to teach and learn valuable character traits.”
Some teachers begin the morning with a “quote of the day” and ask students to briefly discuss what the quote means to them and how it is applied in daily life.
Inspirational quotes can be used to stimulate essay writing where students can practice reflectivity and discover meaning in life experiences. What’s surprising is the variety of different essays that can be generated from one stimulating quote!
Where to Find Inspirational Quotes for Kids
There are many good sources for inspirational quotes that resonate with children. Gleaned from research in positive youth development, you can access a series of articles with over 200 quotes for kids that promote healthy development and build positive relationships. Articles highlight abilities like curiosity, resilience, and empathy, and include discussion starters for home and classroom.
Children can discover their own quotes too! Invite them to think about human values, like humor, tolerance, justice, respect, optimism, etc. They can search the Wisdom Archive, a wonderful quote search engine, for quotations that speak to them. A listing can be compiled of quotes with the most meaning, or posters can be created for home or school. Ideas are only limited by a child’s imagination!
There are also excellent books that share inspirational quotes for children, including Steve Reifman’s Changing Kids’ Lives One Quote at a Time and The Ultimate Book of Inspiring Quotes for Kids by Michael Stutman and Kevin Conklin.