Like Emily Esfahani, I also used to think the whole purpose of life was to pursue happiness.
My initial pursuit of happiness had led me to search for the ideal job, the perfect companion, and the best house or condo. However, when I finally got all of that, I was still left feeling empty. What was I missing inside that I couldn't explain?
It turns out that the data shows that chasing happiness can actually make people unhappy. The suicide rate has been rising around the world. Even though life is getting objectively better by every conceivable standard, more people feel hopeless, depressed and alone.
Sooner or later we all wonder, is this all there it is? According to research, what predicts this despair is not a lack of happiness. It's is a lack of having meaning in life. What's the difference between being happy and having meaning in life?
1. Being happy often means being in a state of comfort and feeling at ease in the moment.
2. Meaning is deeper. Meaning gives a sense of belonging. You end up serving something beyond yourself. Seeking meaning is the more fulfilling path. It helps you become more resilient and do better at school/work and has shown that you can even live longer.
Q: What is the power of having meaning?
A: When life is really good and really bad having meaning gives you something to hold on to.
How can we live more meaningfully?
Here are the four pillars to a meaningful life that Emily Esfahani had described in her TED talk (linked at the end of this post)
1) Belonging - Being in a relationship where you are valued for who you are intrinsically and where you value others as well can create a sense of belonging. If you are valued for who you hate and what you believe those do not create a true sense of belonging. True belonging springs from love. You can choose to cultivate love. Lead with love and you'll create a bond.
2) Purpose - Finding your purpose is not the same thing as finding the job. It is about less what you want, and more about what you want to give. The key to purpose is using your strength to serve others. That's how we contribute and feel needed.
3) Transcendence - These are the rare moments where you are lifted above the sense of self and you feel connected to a higher reality. It happens through being at church and sometimes you feel in the zone. Again it's less about you and more about others.
4) Storytelling - Creating a narrative from your events of life helps you create meaning. You can edit and interpret your story. You can reflect on your life and what you lost and what you've gained. You won't change your story overnight. Embracing your painful memories and defining the good that sustains you.