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Ways to Improve Your Life

The Pursuit of Happiness
Simple things in life can bring us happiness.

In Emily Esfahani Smith’s fascinating article, “There is More To Happiness than Being Happy”, she asserts, “While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting…”

From a modern perspective, looking back to the days of yore, it didn’t take much to make someone happy: Freedom to worship however they wanted – or not, the right to bear arms in order to protect themselves from the French and the British – especially since there was no real militia, a roof over their head, food to eat, wood for a fire, maybe a little money from selling crafts made on the side. These things that we take for granted today were huge for the people who founded our country. Today, like yesterday, we are happy when our needs, wants and desires mesh. But the pursuit of happiness has become connected to what might be termed “selfish” or narcissistic behavior. In our consumer-driven society, it takes ever more goodies, things, new apps, to make us happy. And happiness, as mentioned above, is fleeting. It is present-centered, present hedonism. Nowadays, the pursuit of happiness is, in effect, being a “taker.”

The Search for Meaning
In our hot pursuit of happiness, have we lost the “meaning” in our lives? All indications are a resounding “Yes” as Smith further reports, “The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning. Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future.”
In a new study in the Journal of Positive Psychology (2013) researchers discovered that while negative events may decrease happiness, paradoxically they may increase the meaning in life. Traumatic or emotional experiences can build character and teach us hard lessons that make us more compassionate and give us a deeper understanding of ourselves and others. The study also indicates that compared to those people who did not have any life purpose, those people who did report having a purpose, in other words, meaningful goals which have to do with helping others, rated their life satisfaction higher – even when they felt personally down and out. “People who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, although at the time of the survey, they were less happy.” Having meaning in our lives, in effect, is being a “giver.” Working through past grief, abuse, and failures should not just lead to regret and resignation, but rather resilience, resolve and even post traumatic growth.