Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bi-curious. Seeking ...

… happiness or meaning?

You haven’t heard from me in a bit because I have been contemplating this question. Spurred by what was going on in my head and then a post by a friend linked to this article: There’s More to Life Than Being Happy. Really?  Apparently, per the article, the pursuit of happiness is about being a "taker" rather than a "giver."

The article referenced recent studies and the bestselling 1946 book by Viktor Frankl (of which I had never heard) Man’s Search for Meaning. (I mention the topic and article to a friend at dinner. “Oh yah, that book by Frankl. It’s really good. You’d enjoy it.” Sometimes I feel so ill-read.) Anyway, the point of the article is that happiness without meaning  results in a “relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.” And the problem is? Oh. The problem is that “the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research.  ‘It is the very pursuit of happiness,’ Frankl knew, ‘that thwarts happiness.’"  Hmmmm.  Maybe they mean materialism. But that’s not what they said. However, one study author said “Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others".  Really? (again)

I don't doubt the research that shows that “having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression.”

But it’s not one or the other. That’s simplistic and superficial. What about a bit more nuanced look at what happiness and meaning really entail. What about a balance of happiness and meaning.  Maybe that was the point and I missed it.

Or maybe I am just being a teensy bit defensive in that I have unapologetically been pursuing happiness since I retired (doing what I want to do and not doing much of what I don’t want to do. To wit:  a self-absorbed life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.) And my overall well-being, et. al. have never been better, thank you.

Admittedly, I’ve been wondering whether I have paid my dues as a change-agent, since I spent a good deal of my work life pushing against convention for positive change. Could I just kick back, leave that to others now, and just be happy? (Uh-oh. Now I hear the plaintive mewing of my conscience.)

When I’m done with this rest-in-the-lap-of-happiness (there’s my conscience again saying “surely you will be done at some point”) I will be in a much better position to realize the balance that is happiness and meaning. But still:

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world, and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” E.B. White

See. I’m not the only one who is bi-curious. Seeking…

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