How To Have a Happy AND Meaningful Life
For the most part we all want to live happy meaningful lives. So we set out in early adulthood to find the career and the lifestyle that will allow us to best live out our purpose. We look for that perfect combination of fun and bliss, with impact and service.
After reading Millennial Searchers, I was intrigued by what the co-authors were presenting: “Having a sense of meaning is not the same as feeling happy.” The qualities that often lead to a meaningful life are sometimes in contrast to the natural inclination of people who label themselves as continuously happy.
Is it true? Are we either destined for a life of bliss or one of meaning?
According to Smith and Aakers research, they exist at somewhat opposite ends of the spectrum. (In fact Google “happiness vs. meaning” and you’ll see how many people agree that you have either one or the other.) They explain that “those who reported having a meaningful life saw themselves as more other-oriented — by being, more specifically, a ‘giver.’” A life filled with meaning is typically one of service, of positively impacting your community, of being concerned by others needs and solving the problems they struggle with.
A happy life is most often centered around fulfilling one’s own needs. It is typically linked with detaching what others think of or about you, and listening to your own inner compass to drive you in the right direction.
The women I work with are hard working over achievers, and often so focused on others needs they forget about themselves, or lose themselves completely. Guess what that leads to… unhappiness. This martyrdom through giving can feel rewarding at first. It feels really good to help and serve someone. We all have a basic need to contribute in some way. But what happens when it does start costing you your happiness?
On the other side you probably can think of someone who is so self-centered they rarely consider others needs and feelings. They are happy. Of course they are! They do what they want, but does their life lacks the depth and meaning that comes from deep connections, service, and living out a higher purpose? At what point does fulfilling your own needs block you from seeing the needs of other?
There’s a dance here that happens between the two. For many of us we spend our whole lives in the tango between over extending ourselves and retreating back inwards to ourselves. We hope and long for that moment, that sweet embrace that happens at the end of the dance when all is still and the partners lock eyes. That’s the moment when happiness and deep meaning co-exist in balance with one another. In the mean time, we exhaust ourselves swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other.
What if we could have both, a happy and meaningful life?
I believe we can have careers and lifestyles that make a positive impact on others lives, while maintaining our own happiness. In fact, I think you can’t sustainably have one without the other. Each end of the spectrum has its advantages and it’s disadvantages. It’s less about dedicating your life to one or the other, and more about finding an authentic way to have both.
If those leaning towards a life of meaning are masters at giving, then those living a life of happiness are aces at receiving. And in order to feel completely fulfilled you have to learn how to do both: give and receive. Without one you cannot have the other.
If you want a happy and meaningful life make it your mission to stay open.
When you live with an open mind and open heart you are able to both give and receive. Your life is filled with happiness and meaning. When you are open you let people, experiences, and things come into and out of your life with less attachment or resistance. The struggle to find balance gives way to the natural ease that comes when things flow and change.
Notice when you start to close off or lock up and practice this simply exercise for openness:
- Spread your arms out wide into a “T” position. Spread your fingers even.
- Throw your head back slightly, and open your chest.
- Then breathe deeply for one minute.
- Allow your body to expand and take up space. Feel your heart opening back up. Feel your mind opening up.
- Let go of any resistance, and invite anything not serving you to flow out of your life and anything you truly need to flow into your life.