This blog post is inspired by reading an article on happiness and meaning in The Atlantic by Emily Esfhani Smith. You can read it here. I am particularly interested in this subject, because I am passionate about helping my coaching clients achieve what I like to refer to as ‘deep’ happiness.
Wharton professor Richard Shell in his book Springboard describes ‘deep happiness’ as a kind of feeling that transcends momentary happiness. Its source connects you to your soul, your purpose, to something larger than yourself. It is the path that leads to yourself and to a deeper connection with others. It is a path that is as likely to include tension, challenges and struggles as it is happiness.
People who pursue happiness for the sake of happiness may be thwarting this kind of deeper happiness. Deep happiness is experienced when we live a more meaningful life. Meaning comes from the pursuit of more complex things than happiness. Research into happiness and meaning shows that happiness and meaning overlap, but are also distinctly different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a “taker”, with a relatively shallow, self-absorbed life in which things go well, needs and desire are easily instantaneously satisfied, and difficult or taxing situations are avoided. Living a meaningful live, on the other hand, is associated with being a “giver”, with giving a part of yourself away to others, contributing to others and making a sacrifice on behalf of others. In the words of Martin E. P. Seligman, professor of Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, in the meaningful life “you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self”.
A meaningful life does not necessarily equate with happiness. When we get what we want, when our desires and needs are easily met, we feel happy. Happiness, however, is short-lived. It is experienced in the here and now and it ultimately fades away. Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. We derive meaning from sacrificing ourselves for others, from suffering, from challenges and hardship in life. The meaningful life connects us to others, to our humanity, to the bigger picture, to the past and future. What makes us uniquely human, is that we care deeply for other people and causes bigger than ourselves. Putting our selfish needs aside helps us realize that there is more to a good life than the pursuit of easy happiness. Deep happiness comes from using what we’ve got, our unique strengths and talents, to somehow make the life better for others.
My life feels deeply meaningful, because, through my coaching practice, I get to help people make their lives a little better. When I am coaching, I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. Coaching gives me a sense purpose,joy and connection. The coaching process, like deep happiness, is not always easy. You move through the full range of emotions, negative as well as positive. It is as likely to include tension and struggles as it is happiness. But this is exactly what I love about it. It is real. It is human. It helps me to connect to our shared humanity, our collective journey of waking up to our potential. Although coaching is never about me, it does have a profound impact on how I feel. When I put aside my own troubles and selfish interests to give my listening fully to another person, I allow myself to deeply care. Caring for others gives my life meaning. Or to quote cellist Pablo Casals, “the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.”
What are you doing to live a more meaningful life? How are you serving or contributing to others?