I recently read the following article. The article explains that life with out meaning and only happiness is a shallow and self-centered existence. I agree somewhat, but not entirely.
See the author says that pure happiness is the act of taking and not giving. It’s all about drive reduction. If we are hungry we get food and this makes us happy. We want something we go out and buy it, this makes us happy. We like money so we work and this makes us happy (maybe only on payday).
Well this theory doesn’t make complete sense. The first reason I can think of is that money makes most of us happy because we can do the things we want to do. It may be a selfish reason like buy a new pair of sweet high-top shoes that we don’t really need, or it might be an unselfish reason like buy a sweet pair of high-top shoes for a friend or partner for their birthday. Both make us happy and both don’t have a real lot of meaning.
The author explains that a meaningful life is not necessarily a happy one, as meaningful pursuits are pursuits that bring other people happiness at our expense. They state that parents are less happy interacting with their children and are happier when exercising, eating and watching TV!! Who did they interview? Maybe they should be reported to children welfare groups. I don’t have kids but I can see from my close friends that do, that this is not true. The joy they speak of when they explain things about their kids are clear to see. Compare watching TV and seeing the joy in your child’s face when you walk in the door from work. It’s clearly easy to see which one would make someone happier.
Having selfish reasons for pursuing certain aspects of your life can have meaning and provide for others. I love my job as a personal trainer and I do it because it makes me happy. I educate myself because I enjoy learning and it makes me happy. I work out because I enjoy it and it makes me happy. Now that sounds like pure happiness by the author’s description. So does that make me a self-centered person, leading a shallow life?
I do these things because they not only make me happy but I can see that I can influence people. I hope to influence people through my actions and in turn help them become better people and reach their goals. This is clearly unselfish. Then again is it? My actions are carried out because I get joy and happiness in providing something for someone else. It’s kind of like giving to the poor or a charity. It’s never completely selfless. You do it because it makes you feels good. If it didn’t make you feel good then you probably wouldn’t do it, and i think thats ok. It’s ok to do something for someone else because it make you feel good.
When I’m completing a ultra marathon or 12 day adventure race I’m defiantly not doing it because it makes me happy. I’m doing it because it has meaning. I know that if I drag my sorry butt across to hell and back then I’ll be a better person for it. I’ll come out stronger on the other side. Often the things or pursuits that make us the least happy are sometimes the most beneficial for us, we come out stronger for it.
Viktor Frankl, an American psychologist had to chose to stay in Vienna and go to a Nazi concentration camp and support his parents, or leave for America and follow his blossoming career. He chose to stay and support his parents. This as you can imagine was hard and a tough three years. However he came out stronger and better for it.
So what can we take from this?
Does your life having meaning?
Are you happy and does the life you’re chasing have meaning?
Are you exposing yourself to hardship in order to gain a greater benefit?
If you can lay on your deathbed and say you were mostly happy, your life had meaning, and you committed selfless and selfish acts that benefited both you and others around you, then i think you can go to the eternal jungle in the sky, happy.