Happiness or Meaning?

A lot has been written lately about happiness. In fact, I’ve just been given a book on the subject, The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner. He traveled the world in search of the happiest places, and his excursions uncovered lots of insights into the where of people’s happiness.

Weiner discovered that people in Iceland are among the happiest.

When my husband and I learned this we were flooded with a rush of fond memories, because many years ago, when Dave worked in the Lottery business, he had the pleasure of playing tour guide for a group of guests from the Iceland Lottery. They visited some of the most astonishing places in Northern California: Monterey, Muir Woods, the Sonoma Coast, the Napa wine country, and San Francisco. I didn’t get to tag along because I was working, but I did hook up with them when they reached SF, where we were living at the time. We shared a wonderful evening with them, and they truly were a delightful bunch. 

It’s doubtful we’ll ever live in Iceland, though.

Nevertheless, I am  looking forward to reading the book. There are other “happy” books on my  list, too, including Stumbling on Happiness, and the not yet released Happiness Project.

Anyway, all this talk of happiness has me wondering: what exactly is this quest about?

Are we seeking permanent cheerfulness? Unstoppable mirth? And are we really on the right track? Probably not, considering that just about everything I’ve read about happiness so far points to the truth that the things we think will make us happy usually don’t.

In fact, my bet is that most people seeking happiness are actually yearning for more meaning in their lives.

James Hollis covers this territory in his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life. He proposes that at the end of the day, the question to ask ourselves is not, “Was I happy today?” but rather “Was today meaningful?”

So if you had to choose, which would it be for you – happiness or meaning?

I fall solidly on the side of meaning, because it’s absolutely in my control. Happiness is an emotion I may experience in any given moment, along with a constellation of other emotions. But meaning is something I can create any time I want to.

Case in point – let’s say I’m working on a project, under a deadline. Am I happy? Not really. Maybe I’m feeling engaged, a bit frustrated, tired. But the project is very important to me, it has value to me. So is it meaningful? You bet!

At the end of the day I may not say it was a happy day, but it certainly was meaningful.

So why not start now, and consider that meaning is at least as important as happiness?

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