The Meaning of Happiness
What makes people happy? There are no one-size fits all answers to that particular question but there are clues. If, for example, we look into the habits of happy people we tend to see rather similar things and some may surprise you. People who consistently care for others, or volunteer to help out on a regular basis, appear happier and less depressed. The same is true of those who discover and learn to tap into their own particular strengths and who then use these for the benefit of others. Maintaining a regime of regular exercise and working to keep close personal friendships are other habits of happy people. Some of these issues we might regard as activities, yet people who are happiest also appear to have discovered meaning.
A more meaningful life often results in deeper happiness because it provides a foundation that enables us to become more resilient. It also provides a sense of direction. Many people find that following a spiritual path provides them with inner peace but also friendship, support, a way of providing community service and prayer. Prayer is interesting not just because of its spiritual associations but because of its meditative qualities. Spirituality is often associated with organized religion, but it need not be. Belief in something outside of ourselves, bigger than ourselves as individuals, appears to reduce stress and anxiety and may help to lessen the risk of depression.
Dr. Paul T. P. Wong, is President of the International Network on Personal Meaning and the Meaning-Centered Counseling Institute. He uses the acronym PURE in his approach to understanding meaning in happiness. P is about purpose. It is the aspirations and goals we set in our lives that gives us a sense of direction. U or understanding is the cognitive aspect of meaning. This is the part of us that is self-aware and allows us to understand how we fit in and can contribute to things in a broader sense. R is about behaving Responsibly and in ways that do not conflict with our belief and values system. It is about understanding that our actions have consequences and so the decisions we make must be thoughtful ones. Finally, E is about Enjoying the path we have set ourselves but it’s also about Evaluating and making the necessary adjustments as we go forward. We have to be responsive and reactive to change but it doesn’t mean we need to be blown off course.
Whether our lives are meaningful really depends on our own perception. If we feel unsettled in this regard then taking stock of things might put a few things into perspective and perhaps become the catalyst for action. One exercise that is used is to ask people to imagine they are in their twilight years. Questions to be considered are: What are my accomplishments? For what do I want to be remembered? Am I satisfied with the life I’ve lived? And finally, Is my life being lived in such a way that will achieve what I’m hoping for?
Don’t worry if you struggle with the answers, the point of the exercise is to help with focus. We can spend a lot of time trying to answer such questions and we have to be realistic in our assessment of ourselves. This isn’t about wishful thinking such as curing cancer or eradicating world poverty, but it is about our sense of who we are and what we might become or achieve that means something to us personally. Stay curious, be observant, and believe in yourself.