The un­ex­pected route to happy

We’ve all been search­ing for the wrong type of hap­pi­ness, says Emily Es­fa­hani Smith. The kind that will get you through life’s ups and downs is about find­ing mean­ing, not just plea­sure

Red - - CONTENTS -

Find mean­ing and you’ll find your hap­pi­ness, says Emily Es­fa­hani Smith

Sev­eral years ago, I met a woman named Ash­ley, who spends the ma­jor­ity of her work­ing day shov­el­ling poop from one place to an­other. Her hours are ter­ri­ble, she rarely gets hol­i­days off, and her body of­ten aches from the phys­i­cal labour of her work. And yet, she told me that this is her dream job. Ash­ley is a zookeeper who cares for gi­raffes, wal­la­bies, and kan­ga­roos at Detroit Zoo in the US. Even though she doesn’t al­ways feel happy when she’s work­ing, Ash­ley de­rives an enor­mous amount of mean­ing from what she does. Her pur­pose, she be­lieves, isn’t clean­ing an­i­mal waste. It’s tak­ing care of the an­i­mals and do­ing ev­ery­thing she can to make their lives richer and hap­pier. “Keep­ing the yards and stalls clean is im­por­tant,” she told me, “be­cause that helps the an­i­mals. It keeps them healthy. My goal every day is to make sure they are en­joy­ing their en­vi­ron­ment – and a big part of that is giving them a clean place to live.”

Over the last few years, I’ve in­ter­viewed dozens of peo­ple like Ash­ley in my quest to un­der­stand what makes life worth liv­ing. I’ve spo­ken to psy­chol­o­gists, so­ci­ol­o­gists, philoso­phers, and neu­ro­sci­en­tists; I’ve read the works of fig­ures in lit­er­a­ture and his­tory such as Ge­orge Eliot, Vik­tor Frankl, Aris­to­tle; and I’ve lis­tened to the sto­ries of or­di­nary and ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple, such as a for­mer drug dealer, a woman with ter­mi­nal can­cer, and a re­cent col­lege grad­u­ate – all to un­der­stand how and where they found mean­ing in their lives. I wanted to know what val­ues should I live by? What projects, re­la­tion­ships, and ac­tiv­i­ties will bring me ful­fil­ment?

YOU MIGHT IMAG­INE THE AN­SWER IS TO SET ‘HAP­PI­NESS’ AS YOUR GOAL. But as I dug into the re­search, I dis­cov­ered some­thing that sur­prised me.

It’s not hap­pi­ness that truly mat­ters, but mean­ing.

To un­der­stand why, it’s im­por­tant to know there’s a dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two. Most peo­ple to­day choose hap­pi­ness. Since the mid-2000s, the in­ter­est in hap­pi­ness, as mea­sured by Google searches, has tripled. “The short­cut to any­thing you want in life,” writes au­thor Rhonda Byrne in her book The Se­cret, “is to be and feel happy now!” It’s dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate to your favourite web­site with­out com­ing across an ar­ti­cle about 10 steps to a hap­pier life. And yet, there is a ma­jor prob­lem with the hap­pi­ness frenzy: it has failed to de­liver on its prom­ise. Rates of sui­cide, de­pres­sion and lone­li­ness have been ris­ing in re­cent decades. In­deed, as the hap­pi­ness in­dus­try grows, so­cial sci­en­tists have un­cov­ered a sad irony – chas­ing hap­pi­ness ac­tu­ally makes peo­ple un­happy. The hap­pi­ness frenzy di­verts us from what re­ally mat­ters. As some psy­cho­log­i­cal re­searchers have put it, “The more di­rectly one aims to max­imise plea­sure and avoid pain, the more likely one is to pro­duce in­stead a life bereft of depth, mean­ing, and com­mu­nity.”

That’s not to say hap­pi­ness is a bad thing. But what we need to un­der­pin it and give it depth and au­then­tic­ity, is

Chas­ing HAP­PI­NESS ac­tu­ally makes peo­ple un­happy. The hap­pi­ness frenzy di­verts us from what re­ally MAT­TERS

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.