Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Good times, bad times

Even as I was reading this piece at the Scientific American, my thoughts were along the lines of "I knew this already" and "I have been saying this for years."  But then when has the world ever listened to me! ;)

And what was that Scientific American piece about?  Happiness and meaning in life.  Themes that I often explore here.

Unlike me, the writer there has credentials. I mean, Ivy creds:
Scott Barry Kaufman is scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
So, if you didn't care for what I say, you will pay attention to Kaufman, right?  Story of my life! ;)

With hyperlinks all over the place, Kaufman writes about meaning and happiness, which are are two of our central motivations.  He writes that  "there can be substantial trade-offs between seeking happiness and seeking meaning in life."
Consider, for instance, the “parenthood paradox”: parents often report that they are very happy they had children, but parents who are living with children usually score very low on measures of happiness. It seems that raising children can decrease happiness but increase meaning. Or consider revolutionaries, who often suffer through years of violence and discord for a larger purpose that can ultimately bring great satisfaction and meaning to their lives and the lives of others.
Any parent knows that parenting is not unicorns and rainbows.  In between the fleeting moments of ecstasy of being a parent is a great deal of pain, anguish, hurt, and more that make parents stressed and unhappy.  But, parenthood also gives meaning.  Now you are beginning to think that it was unwise not to listen to me, eh! ;)
It seems that happiness has more to do with having your needs satisfied, getting what you want, and feeling good, whereas meaning is more related to uniquely human activities such as developing a personal identity, expressing the self, and consciously integrating one’s past, present, and future experiences. 
No kidding!  Have I not been blogging about these, like, forever? ;)

Unfortunately, especially these days, every where one turns the message is about happiness that is instantaneous.  The excellent sheep that most are, people bah-bah their vacuous and meaningless existence until it hits them hard one fine day when they begin to wonder what their lives were about--but, by then it is always too late.

There is a lot more to pursue than happiness.  One of the impressive ideas in Pixar's Inside Out was not about happiness but about sadness.  Sadness and the full range of human emotions help us put together meaning.
While happiness may make us feel good in the moment, the avoidance of negative thoughts and feelings may stunt personal development over time. After all, personal development often requires experiencing the full range of emotions
I will leave you with yet another message that I have been talking/blogging about forever:
The more people felt their activities were consistent with core themes and values of their self, the greater meaning they reported in their activities.
That requires people to understand for themselves who they truly are for which they have to find their own answers to "who am I?"

There is only one place where I differ with the Ivy researcher, and that is a significant difference as well: there does not have to be any tradeoff between happiness and meaning--it all depends on how we interpret happiness and meaning.  But, this is merely an intuitive understanding for which I, without any Ivy credentials, cannot provide any "scientific" evidence.  Take it or leave it, as it pleases you ;)


Anne in Salem said...

I thoroughly understand the premise behind the trade-off between happiness and meaning. Sticking with parenting since I know nothing of being a revolutionary, I can think of many times I was not happy with parenting even though I knew the pain was minor compared to the benefits. For example, I just scheduled my daughter for wisdom teeth extraction surgery. I will not be happy then. She will be in pain, she will hurt, I will hurt for her. Momentary unhappiness in exchange for knowing I am taking care of her health. Same with disciplining children. They may hate us temporarily, but they are learning important lessons. I can survive the hate knowing the lessons they learn will benefit them in the long run.

Love Armstrong. No one else like him ever.

Mike Hoth said...

The paradox is largely in our thinking of "happiness" as a feeling that can be continually formed. There is no method in existence that can create endless happiness in the human mind because we do not function that way. Too much dopamine in your brain and the neuro-receptors will actually weaken themselves against that trigger. It's what happens to drug addicts that causes them to seek higher and higher doses.

This leads two directions. One, people become unhappy because they assume a person or object can become that endless font they seek. We can see this in newlyweds who do not understand as I do (I've been married since August) that your spouse's job is not to make you happy and assume that when they are unhappy their spouse has failed. Two, fulfillment becomes a higher priority than happiness because it has a lasting affect.

Be it evolution or creation, we are led to believe that humans have an inherent drive to continue our species. Thus, child rearing paradoxically continues despite our lack of immediate reward.

Sriram Khé said...

As I read through both the comments, I was thinking that a better title for the post would have been this: "Meaningless Happiness and Unhappy Meanings" ;)

Ramesh said...

As I was reading the post I was having the same thought that you finally articulated - it is not necessary that there has to be a tradeoff between happiness and meaning. I submit they largely intersect. Yes, there are moments when we do something for a purpose that may not make us uniformly happy and we do something to make us happy that may not uniformly have a purpose. But the time they intersect are many times more than they diverge. So I would disagree with your alternative title for the post you proposed in the comments.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, a tradeoff is not necessary--but it depends on how we as individuals approach that issue.
Will take this agreeing comment from you because I know it is a matter of time before ... ;)

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