There is a lot of “pursuit of happiness” going on out in the world. And of course, who can blame humans for wanting to be happy?
I was reading an article recently, and they suggested that instead of chasing happiness, we should chase meaning.
I (obviously) agree.
And another article invited us to chase after flow, kindness, and meaning as an alternative to happiness. (Their definition of “flow” being so engaged in something that you lose the sense of time)
After reading these two articles, I happened to listen to a podcast episode with Scott Barry Kaufman and Susan Cain discussing these very topics.
They were discussing introverts and extroverts and how introverts have less dopamine (the pleasure/happiness brain chemical) than extroverts. So, by definition, extroverts are in fact happier.
If you are an introvert like me, you might initially have a bad feeling in hearing this, just as I did.
BUT, Kaufman went on to pose the idea – that having a lot of dopamine (pleasure & happiness) does not equal fulfillment.
He asks, if you could just be hooked up to a machine that would just give you constant dopamine for the rest of your life and you never had to do anything else ever again, would you do it?
The answer is no. Because although you would technically be happy, you would not end your life feeling fulfilled.
Or another example. You could either spend one evening a week watching Netflix or one evening a week helping the poor.
Which would make you happier and bring more pleasure? Maybe Netflix.
Which would potentially be frustrating at times but also leave you with a sense of meaning and purpose? Helping the poor.
Let’s stop reaching for a happy life, and start reaching for a meaningful and fulfilled life.
Will you join me?
Balancing Self Care & Self Sacrifice
If you know me and have kept up with the blog – you know I am an advocate for self care.
Before my advocacy in self care, I was living in the framework of self-sacrifice. Which is not a bad framework – but I pushed too hard. I am a highly sensitive introvert that needs 8 hours of sleep to function. I need downtime and a sense of stability. But I would try to pretend I didn’t need those things – and I would burn out. I had to realize that being able to contribute to the world meant I needed to learn self care.
With that being said, everything is a balance. Self care does not mean always choosing the easiest option. We have to be able to use our intuition and inner wisdom to determine what is the right choice in any given moment.
In the example above, Netflix might seem like more self care – but living a life consistent with your values and making choices to help others brings fulfillment and purpose to your life.
It’s a balance – we must embrace the tension of both being important. If you had a busy stressful day and are almost over the edge – maybe Netflix is the right answer in that moment.
I work with at-risk young adults and I would face extreme burn out if I tried to do everything I possibly could for each and every person. I work in the Social Work field – where setting boundaries and having self care are very important in order to avoid burn out.
One day, a young woman popped in my office full of stress, fears of the future, and overwhelm. I asked if she would like to go for a drive, get some fresh air, and talk. She said yes and off we went.
Did I technically have time to go out with her for an hour and hear her stories?
No, not really. But in that moment, I knew it was the right thing to do.
Not only did she feel better after our outing – it also communicated that I cared about her – and began a positive relationship between the two of us.
Which made me feel good. And fulfilled.
And really, isn’t making decisions that make you feel purposeful, caring, and good about who you are – a form of self care?
Sometimes caring for others means staying home to recharge, so you can be more present for them in the future.
And sometimes caring for self, can mean extending a helping hand when you have other things you could be doing, and giving yourself the sense of purposefulness that comes with that action.
Balancing Living out Values vs. Just Being
You are good enough, just being you. You do not have to be perfect. When you aren’t doing, you are still valuable.
These are lessons I had to learn.
And again, it’s balance.
I hear the phrase, we are “human beings” not “human doings.”
But, it is living out our lives consistent with our values, that makes life meaningful, purposeful, fulfilling, and worth it.
And we give ourselves grace, when we can’t do this perfectly. And we give ourselves self care.
But there is something missing, if there are no values or mission guiding that life.
I like exploring ideas and ways of thinking. And new ideas and new ways of thinking are helpful, but I also must course-correct when the ideas go too far.
I had to do this when I became overly focused on self sacrifice, and stopped caring for myself.
But, I have found myself re-adjusting again – it has been very important for me to learn about about self care and just being. But, I began reading books and articles on this subject – and realized there were people I felt were going too far, and I stopped agreeing.
The goal of life isn’t for me to sit in my house feeling relaxed and cozy. These moments are important and necessary, but when I go to work and hear the stories of my clients who face abuse, loss, mental illness, poverty, hopelessness, trauma…
Cozy at home is not where I belong. Bringing hope and encouragement to the poor in spirit is where I belong. I have been lucky to have certain things in my life, and when I see others who do not have those same things – this makes me question too much self care. I don’t want to throw self care out the window, but I want to use self care as a tool so I am recharged to take on this mission and bring as much encouragement, support, and kindness I am able to.
You are valuable just being who you are. With no actions attached.
But if you have abilities to change and impact someone’s life for the better-
why not do it?
Follow your values and give yourself grace.
Trust your inner wisdom to know.
I hope for you, a happy life.
But moreso, I hope for you a meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilled life.
A life that is aligned with your values and your core beliefs.
A life where you don’t define yourself by the problems you have, but rather, by the kindness and hope you bring to others.
Where you simply forget about yourself for awhile, because there is a mission in your life that has consumed you, in the best kind of way.
You will do amazing things.
- Are there any areas in which you need to shift your thinking from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of meaning? If so, how will you do this?
- What comes to mind when you think of balancing self care and self sacrifice? Are there areas in your life that come to mind where you need to focus more on care or sacrifice? Do you feel open to trusting your intuition to know which one to embrace, in any given moment?
- Reflect on the ideas of living out your values versus just being & giving yourself grace. What does this balance look like for you?
- What is your mission right now? Who are you showing kindness to? Where are you feeling a sense of purpose? What is bringing you a sense of fulfillment or meaning? If this is lacking, how could you make choices and take actions, to invite more of this into you life?
- What was your biggest takeaway from this post? Is there an action you need to take, based on this? What do you need to focus on this week?
9 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Meaning vs. The Pursuit of Happy”
I’m so glad to see this post, Nicole! Both because I’m glad to see you writing, and because it was really fulfilling to read. I think my biggest takeaway from the article was that it’s ok to trade off a momentary dopamine increase for longer-term meaning. Sometimes after a long day, I think I have to “treat myself”, and I’ve been noticing that, while I enjoy just binging on movies, I don’t really look forward to those days. Since I’ve been meaning to work on adding more meaning to my life, I’m going to find something meaningful to do on my off-nights, and try it this week! Thanks for the insight 🙂
Wow, this is a really good point! I appreciate the sentiment of the article, and the discussion questions. Here are my answers:
1) I mainly think I need to shift my thinking in terms of my career goals – I’ve been getting steadily burnt out pursuing a job that pays well, but has bad hours and leaves me burnt out with little to spare for friends, family, and other passions.
2) I hadn’t considered balancing self-care and self-sacrifice much. I think part of the problem is that I had just thought of having a no-breaks kind of life as the appropriate way to live, and self-care was taking whatever time I had left and just having no structure – lazing in front of the TV. Being intentional with this is something I want to work on!
3) I’m an extreme personality, so balancing self-forgiveness for not taking care of myself along with a desire to achieve my goals is something I’ll have to be careful about – I tend to swing from one extreme to the other, either wanting to quit everything and pursue my interests, or thinking I don’t need any time for myself. This balance is hard for me, but I know it’s important!
4) I think I want my mission now to be reconnecting with those close to me – a few friends and my family. I haven’t made much time for them, and that’s a value I want to pursue.
5) My action step will be scheduling time to spend with those people, as well as budgeting enough time for myself and work.
Thanks for the post, Nicole! I’ll be following this blog for sure!
Hi Darla! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts & response to the journal questions – I enjoyed reading them! I hope you find the balance you are looking for and are able to live out the values that are truly important to you! Thanks so much for reading! 🙂
Great article Nicole!
I’m an introvert, so it’s easy for me to sometimes get jealous of more extroverted people who seem to have an “easier” time in life – but taking time to recharge, do self-care, and also nurture my deep side would be really helpful!
P.S. What was the name of the podcast you were listening to? I’d like to listen to what you listen to 🙂
Hi Andi! The podcast I was listening to is The Psychology Podcast by Scott Barry Kaufman. As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts – I hope you had a wonderful week! 🙂
What a great reminder, Nicole!
I really don’t want to make this a political post, but I’ve been thinking, since the last election, about how I can personally make things better, and I think this post really hits on it – living with values, living with meaning, and living for the people around me. I felt hopeless at first, but I think if we follow this advice, we can be proper “human beings” – being there for each other. Thanks for the post!
Hi Addy! It sounds like we are on the same wavelength – I think living out your values, living with meaning, and living for those around you is a wonderful response to the election! 🙂 Glad you are feeling a bit more hopeful! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me!
Love the post as usual – I hope all is well in the US! I know it’s been all over the news these past few weeks here in Germany as well. I wanted to echo Addy, and say that I think your message is just perfect for me when I’m feeling anxiety about the future. Taking care of myself but living with values is what makes me feel more positive. Thanks as always for this blog!
Hi Sharon! Things have been a little crazy in the US – which I shared a bit about in my post yesterday – I appreciate your concern! I am glad you found the message from this post helpful for when you are feeling anxious about the future. Thank you so much for reading & sharing your thoughts with me!