Stanford recently published a study about the way we construct our experiences, proving that though the principles of meaning and happiness overlap, a meaningful life is ultimately more important than a happy one. The difference? Putting your energy into cultivating an experience that is meaningful entails something more than whatever appeases your own wants and desires in the moment. Happiness is a fleeting feeling, meaning is a stable foundation. It’s not to say that happiness is obsolete, just that it’s an effective benefit of meaning. We see it as an elusive thing solely because of how we approach it, and there are few things I love more than debunking those ideas.
Because if you whittle down the things that matter to the reasons why they matter, you will realize that the common denominator is that they all give you a sense of belonging, fulfillment, purpose, inevitability. Meaning.
Because happiness is not a state that we can ever fully realize. The only way to find it is to be okay with not always having it. Meaning, however, grows. We can choose what’s meaningful, we can’t always choose to feel one way or another. And in that former choosing, we realize that there is a happiness to be found, one that’s much more stable and genuine than the alternative. Because happiness is not the lack of struggle but the ability to cope. It is seeing your own suffering and sacrificing as a part of some greater good as opposed to your own nuance.
Because we don’t know how to handle negativity. We can identify it. But we don’t handle it well. And continually striving for ultimate satisfaction with abandon and disregard of the reality of what that will entail leaves us inevitably and ultimately disappointed. Because we struggle to see a hard time or negative feeling as a natural process that doesn’t necessarily detract from our overall satisfaction, but meaning allows us to. If we’re gauging by only happiness however, every negative feeling is a strike against our overall fulfillment, so to say. Working for meaning as opposed to happiness keeps us aware of the fact that having and processing different emotions isn’t just normal, it’s healthy. It keeps us in tune with the fact that great things do indeed usually require some suffering, and that our lives wouldn’t be what they are without that.
Because happiness requires you to be focused entirely in the present, and realistically, we can’t always do that. We need to plan for tomorrow, and oftentimes hope is the most important thing we have. Dismissing our past experiences isn’t an effective way to cope with them, it’s an effective way to bury them and inevitably have a breakdown when those unstable foundations come back to haunt whatever we’ve built on top of them. But, as is mentioned in the original article, meaning is what happens when you link all three: past, present and future. It’s seeing the past as what built you to deal with the present, and the present as time to construct your future, and the present as having a purpose, and thus, a reason to be focusing on it.
Because the people we love most and hardest are the ones to whom we link inextricable meaning. Love is great when it’s lighthearted and fun, but it’s changing and lasting when it’s meaningful and deep. There is a big difference between the love we choose because it’s easy and the love we choose because it’s worth it.
And because ultimately, meaning is attainable. Meaning is something we can choose. Such is not always the case with happiness. But we can control meaning. And the reality of it is that we will go on to live ultimately dissatisfied lives from consistently striving for our own selfish high when the crux of anything worth doing is making it something that lasts longer than the instantaneous rush does.