People often say that their greatest desire is to “be happy.” Happiness feels good and we certainly want to feel good. However, so often we find that “happiness” is a brief and transient feeling. We have it for a moment and as soon as we try and grab onto it, we find that it is like “trying to catch the wind in a bag,” to quote Alan Watts. What do we do if happiness isn’t guaranteed?
Maybe happiness isn’t the answer we are looking for. Maybe, to “be happy” doesn’t mean that we are smiling, experiencing joy or feeling pleasure at all times. Those aren’t sustainable feelings. Human beings aren’t “designed” to be in a state of bliss at all times. Infact, to be happy all the time could be quite detrimental. Most of our emotions are not exclusively joyful ones, and it’s completely normal to experience a range of feelings and sensations.
When we look to our history books, philosophies, religions and contemporary psychological theories, we find a common thread of what human beings strive for. What these materials seek to answer is the question, “What is the meaning of life?” As you may notice, the answer lies in the question: what human beings really, truly seek out, and are driven by, is meaning. The trick is for each of us to seek out, discover, and uncover our deepest sources of meaning. We must each authentically answer the question, “What is of greatest value to me?”
Each of us finds that we are pulled, almost mysteriously,towards particular experiences, events, people, and knowledge. We have an inner compass of sorts, and trueNorth is the thing that is of ultimate value to us. As with areal compass though, our metaphorical compass is disturbed by other magnetic objects and fields. These magnetic objects might be like the things that our society might utilize to draw us towards their products,information and other “nets.” There is no inherent problem with wanting new or better things, but we must not forget that these “things” are not the true North, butare possibly magnetic objects steering us from trueNorth.
Our true North is a bit deeper. The thing of ultimate meaning and value in our life may take some searching to uncover. We may be pulled towards the God of our religion, a connection to nature, caring for others, having meaningful relationships, expressing our soul through a career, or a multitude of other deeply meaningful things. What matters most is that we constantly seek out meaning and looking for it everywhere- it is the thing that can most ground us.
Imagine this: You are walking in a field, and the weather is clear. When a storm comes through, what can we hold onto? It may be one thing or a few different things. The point is that we must have something that keeps us from getting pulled into the storm or at least brings us back down to earth once we get a little carried away.
Each of us has a unique journey to finding meaning. For some of us it can take a bit longer.For almost all of us, this isn’t something that we can find completely on our own. We must talk and work together with friends, mentors, and professionals to discover meaning.There is nothing wrong with getting help in the process.
No matter where we are, we must know that something is pulling our compass to trueNorth, and that this experience we are having is a journey towards that ultimate meaning.
This week, consider writing a list of five “core values.” If you need some ideas, just search online the phrase, “core values” and see what you find.If you need help, ask a friend. Remember, if you’re feeling like some assistance is needed in this process, don’t hesitate to reach out or ask for professional help!
As Frederick Nietzsche once proclaimed “he [or she] who has a why to live for can bear any how”
*Disclaimer- the inability to experience any pleasure, or the loss of interest in usual activities or hobbies can be a sign of depression or another major mood disturbance, and you should always seek out an assessment if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or other mental health concerns, because sometimes therapy is in order for treatment of mental health conditions.