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Happy vs. Meaningful

February 01, 2024

It's a question that has plagued humanity since the beginning of time – How does one go about living a happy life? What does a happy life even look like?  

What may seem happy to you may look like unhappiness to others. 

And what else is there to life other than happiness? 

How about living a life with meaning rather than living a life just to be happy?  

How often do we think about living a happy life vs. living a meaningful one? Because they are not inherently the same.  

Psychologists suggest that leading a happy life is associated with being a “taker," and living a meaningful life corresponds with "giving." The differences between the two should be obvious. 

In his bestselling book entitled “Man’s Search for Meaning," author Viktor Frankl writes about his experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust, where he witnessed daily the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp that saw most of his family members, including his pregnant wife, die in suffering and anguish.   

What puzzled Mr. Frankl about his survival was the exact reasons why he survived and others didn't. He concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died boiled down to one thing:  A life of meaning. 

In other words, what Mr. Frankl feels kept him alive was keeping the meaning for his life.  

After witnessing the immense pain and suffering inflicted on his fellow prisoners, those who focused on life's meaning were often the difference between those who lived and those who died. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing," Frankl wrote, "the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way." 

He wrote about many stories in his camp when he worked as a counselor to other prisoners, where prisoners had lost all hope for their lives and couldn't possibly see any reason to live. 

A few weeks ago, I met with a client, and our initial conversation centered around his utter frustration with how the world is today. He was happy about his investment performance last year, yet he couldn’t help but have lingering doubts about his future, both for his investments and his financial plan. In a sense, he was happy but not satisfied.

According to a recent poll done by Gallup, Americans are the happiest they've been in nearly four years. In another study that Gallup did, they found that almost 60 percent of all Americans feel happy, without stress or worry.  

And yet . . . 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us that 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. In other words, 40 percent either don't know their life's purpose or are, at least, undecided about whether life should even have a purpose.  

So, what gives? Why are we so happy about our lives but feeling confused about the future? 

Maybe the answer lies within having a purpose. 

I wrote recently about volatility (Feb. 5th PCN) and the effects of wishing it away. When you hope for no volatility in your investments, it leads to MORE volatility! Can the same principle be applied to happiness? 

The single-minded pursuit of happiness could cause people to be less happy, according to some new research. It's as if something is missing.   Even when “happiness” is achieved, many people still miss the mark. Happiness is not a panacea for a deep, lingering void.  

True happiness lies within the finding and fulfilling of one’s purpose. 

Only then will happiness have the chance to be forever and permanent and not just some temporary band-aid. 

Find your purpose!

Stay the course, my friends.