The other day I read an article written by a social scientist who did a research study with a group of other researchers about the difference between a happy life and a meaningful life.
To summarize, the research data suggests that a happy life is one in which you have enough money to get most of your needs met, your body is reasonably healthy, and you have connections with family and friends. Happiness, however, is a function of the present moment, and it is widely understood that even though we are happy now, we may not always be happy in the future.
A meaningful life is not necessarily always a happy one, although there is a great deal of overlap. Basically, for a life to be truly meaningful, four conditions are necessary. It must have a purpose that is future-driven, values that enable you to judge good and bad so that you can choose what you consider to be “good,” at least, for yourself, effiacy: your actions must make a positive contribution towards attaining your goals and values, and self-worth, a basis for regarding ourselves in a positive light.
For some people, the purpose might be a more short-term goal, such as winning an Olympic medal or graduating from university with a degree in a certain discipline. For others, it might be a longer-term goal such as having a successful career or raising a family. Many of us have lifelong goals, such as making a positive contribution to human life, caring for the natural environment, or individual spiritual growth.
Values can vary from person to person, from generation to generation, and from culture to culture. Our values come from our parents and other caregivers, from our formal education, from our spiritual path, and from our individual life experiences. Whatever values you adopt, they form a framework within which you can make decisions about what to do and what not to do. Without values, one choice is as good as any other, so you could say that your values provide choices.
If you feel that you have been generally successful in attaining your goals, and that you are on the right track toward achieving a future goal, then your life has the quality of effiacy, or the ability to produce a desired or intended result.
Self-worth is a function of having a purpose in life that you view as worthy and being able to achieve that purpose. In other words, it is a function of the first three conditions for a meaningful life.
Many people say that they want their children to be happy, and who wouldn’t want that? But what they generally mean by a “happy life” is actually a “meaningful life.” Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with making sure your kids are happy. You can work toward your children’s happiness by giving them love and spending quality time with them, making sure their basic needs are met, ensuring in as much as possible that they are healthy, encouraging them to get the necessary education for the career of their choice, and encouraging them to interact with family and friends.
You can help them to build meaningful lives by exposing them to people who are successful in life, exposing them to spiritual teachings, encouraging them to set goals and work to attain those goals, passing on to them your own values, while remaining open to the possibility that their values may differ from yours as they attain maturity. 🙂