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 ;)


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