Have you ever pondered the question, “What is the meaning of life?” This inquiry isn’t limited to philosophers; it should engage all individuals in contemplating the significance of life. Let’s take a pause and contemplate what sets us apart, rather than merely going through the motions of an ordinary existence.
Individuals who adhere to their own guiding principles in life often report a greater sense of well-being and fewer symptoms of depression compared to those who do not. When you have a genuine understanding of the purpose behind your existence, you don’t meander aimlessly through life. Instead, you are motivated and awaken each day with a sense of purpose and vitality.
Happiness is wanting what you get; success is getting what you want
Finding the meaning of life through happiness
To experience genuine happiness, it is essential to pause and appreciate the simple pleasures of life. In simpler terms, we must learn to savor the present moment without being burdened by thoughts of the past or worries about the future. It is crucial to embrace the fact that life and its circumstances are unpredictable, and we must be comfortable with that uncertainty.
Similar to how young children find delight in the present moment, we too should seek joy in the here and now instead of constantly fixating on the future as the source of our happiness. When we become overly attached to future desires or expectations, we prevent ourselves from fully enjoying our present life.
Discover genuine and lasting joy
Similarly, when we constantly dwell on the possibility of negative events occurring in the future, we rob ourselves of the ability to relish life. By practicing mindfulness or adopting a mindful perspective that keeps us grounded in the present, we can discover genuine and lasting joy.
We often undermine our own happiness by dwelling on the past and allowing it to shape our perception of ourselves and our current lives. While we cannot alter the past itself, we can alter our interpretation of it. This is because neuroscience reveals that our memories are more about reconstruction than simple retrieval.
Whenever we reflect on the past, a region of the brain called the angular gyrus, located in the parietal lobe, pieces together fragments of stored information to form a memory, similar to assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Depending on our present state of mind, these puzzle pieces can change. We unconsciously modify our memories to make them align with our current circumstances.
The ability to reshape our understanding of the past
For example, when we feel fearful, our reconstructed memories tend to focus on threats. Conversely, when we feel happy, our reconstructed memories tend to be less negative. We possess the ability to reshape our understanding of the past. Here are some strategies to shift the balance in our favor:
Maintaining a collection of positive memories. When we dwell on negative memories, it triggers negative emotions, creating a feedback loop that reinforces the recall of more negative memories.
Seeking meaning and extracting lessons from difficult memories. By doing so, we not only enhance our well-being but also increase our ability to provide valuable advice, troubleshoot problems, and make improved decisions.
Directing our attention towards gratitude. When we shift our focus to the things and individuals we appreciate, we cultivate happiness and reduce the occurrence of depressive symptoms.
The Japanese ‘Ikigai’
The concept of ‘Ikigai,’ a practice from Japan described by psychologist Michiko Kumano, represents a state of well-being attained through the dedication to enjoyable activities that also bring happiness. Ikigai can be visually represented by a Venn diagram, where the intersection of four spheres—what you love, what you excel at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for—creates a fulfilling sense of purpose. Every individual possesses an ikigai, although discovering it may require introspection, time, and effort.
The Danish ‘Lykke’
In Denmark, the practice of ‘Lykke,’ which translates to ‘happiness’ in Danish, involves a routine where individuals leave the office at 5:00 p.m., cycle home, and spend two hours playing with their children. They then perform acts of kindness towards strangers, followed by the serene act of lighting five candles in the evening while enjoying a TV thriller.
The Swedish ‘Lagom’
Meanwhile, the Swedish embrace the philosophy of ‘Lagom,’ meaning ‘Not too little or too much. Just right.’ This concept promotes moderation, advocating against excessive wealth, for instance. Instead of working excessively long hours, risking burnout, adherents of ‘Lagom’ strive for a harmonious balance between their personal and professional lives.
With this equilibrium between work and life, it comes as no surprise that Scandinavian nations consistently rank among the happiest people on Earth.
Finding the meaning of life through success
Recent research indicates that an increase in wealth can be associated with a sense of fulfillment and achievement. Surprisingly, this study revealed that there is no upper limit to the amount of money that contributes to a person’s success.
Conversely, another study found that in communities where the pursuit of wealth was less emphasized, individuals could still experience contentment and accomplishment. By prioritizing values such as family and nature, they were able to attain similar levels of satisfaction.
Finding joy in the ‘little’ things in life
By discovering happiness in the seemingly ‘small’ aspects of life and cultivating contentment with what we already possess, true fulfillment can be achieved regardless of our circumstances.
Considering that we dedicate an average of 90,000 hours of our lives to work, it is natural to strive for success in our professional endeavors. However, there is an alternative approach known as ‘slow productivity’ championed by Cal Newport. Slow productivity entails working at a deliberate pace, focusing on fewer tasks at a time, and finding enjoyment and success in the process.
By adopting this mindset, individuals experience reduced feelings of haste and stress, while also shifting away from the prevalent ‘hustle culture’ towards a culture of mindfulness. Embracing mindfulness allows for greater relaxation and decreased susceptibility to burnout, which is an unfortunate consequence of modern society.
Finding purpose in every activity or task
Discovering purpose in every activity or task at hand is crucial for experiencing a sense of accomplishment. Having a clear sense of purpose allows us to concentrate on what truly matters in our work, eliminating distractions and facilitating the state of flow.
In his renowned book, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined flow as a mental state where one becomes fully engrossed in an activity, with a sense that everything else fades away. Csikszentmihalyi also emphasized that the key to happiness lies in attaining this state of flow, which encompasses personal meaning and fulfillment, often referred to as eudaimonic happiness.
Finding the meaning of life through compassion
It is projected that children born in developed countries today have a greater than 50% chance of reaching the age of one hundred. However, what significance does longevity hold if we do not contribute to our communities and assist others? According to Kasley Killam, cultivating compassion is the pathway to finding fulfillment in life.
Compassion can be defined as a vital aspect of well-being that arises from connection and communal engagement. When considering the value of connection and community in the developed world, Scandinavian life philosophies exemplify this concept. In fact, each of the Scandinavian countries—Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland—embraces distinct yet community-oriented lifestyles.
It’s only by giving that we’re able to receive…
When we acknowledge the suffering of others and take action to alleviate it, we not only make a positive impact but also reap numerous rewards. Bill Gates eloquently stated that “It’s only by giving that we’re able to receive more than we already have”.
It’s important to note that giving doesn’t solely revolve around monetary contributions; we can also give our time and effort. For example, becoming a mentor to a child or youth as a Big Brother or Sister, advocating for causes we believe in, or simply practicing random acts of kindness like buying a coffee for the person behind us at the coffee shop.
Embracing our authentic selves
Since we spend the most time with ourselves, it’s crucial to be able to look in the mirror and genuinely appreciate who we see, showing ourselves compassion. One way to cultivate this self-liking is through regular self-reflection.
By taking the time to reflect on our lives, we can identify where we may have made mistakes and where we have succeeded, enabling us to make adjustments that align our lives with our values. Additionally, dedicating moments to self-reflection allows us to be less influenced by the negative opinions of others and find happiness in simply embracing our authentic selves.
Conclusion of: Happiness + success + compassion = the meaning of life?
We are granted only a single opportunity in life, and therefore, it is important to make it meaningful and leave a lasting impact on the world. This can be achieved by leading a life that embraces happiness, success, and compassion.