I’d like to dedicate today’s post on the difference between happiness and meaningfulness. When you’re trying to change something and create a positive impact, it’s vitally important that you don’t just enjoy what you’re doing, you have to love what you’re doing. Loving your work gives you the energy you need to take the leap to shift from making incremental changes towards radical improvement (Steve Farber wrote about this process in his wonderful book ‘The Radical Leap‘). It’s easy to misinterpret this love for what you’re doing with being happy. I’ve been writing about happiness on this blog on several occasions (for example here and here), and even though happiness is extremely important, it’s not the driver for this leap of faith.
Last week I read this very interesting article on Stanford news about the differences between living a happy life and living a meaningful live. Both lives overlap, but there are some very important differences to be found:
“Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker.” – Jennifer Aaker
|Getting what you want and need||Expressing and defining yourself|
|Present||Linking the past, present and future|
|Variety of relationships||Deep relationships|
|Low stresslevel||High stresslevel|
“The unhappy but meaningful life involves difficult undertakings and can be characterized by stress, struggle and challenges. However, while sometimes unhappy in the moment, these people – connected to a larger sense of purpose and value – make positive contributions to society.
Aaker points out that this type of life has received less attention in the media, which has recently focused on how to cultivate the happy life.”
When you link this list with a list by John R. Ehrenfeld I posted on this blog before, it’s strange to see how Ehrenfeld’s unsustainable world is much more closely related to the happiness side of this table, and the sustainable world is more about meaningfulness. It might be interesting to analyze whether or not our quest (as human beings) for happiness is slowly destroying our planet, and (if so) how we can change our focus from happiness towards meaningfulness.
“Happiness without meaning is characterized by a relatively shallow and often self-oriented life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided, the report noted.
And so, the meaningful life guides actions from the past through the present to the future, giving one a sense of direction. It offers ways to value good and bad alike, and gives us justifications for our aspirations. From achieving our goals to regarding ourselves in a positive light, a life of meaningfulness is considerably different than mere happiness.
“People have strong inner desires that shape their lives with purpose and focus – qualities that ultimately make for a uniquely human experience,” said Aaker.”