Happiness and meaning in life- the sweet spot where they meet


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These strategies crucially depend on the existence of a spiritual realm that includes a soul.

However, even if we might have faith in a spiritual reality, few of us think we have strong evidence of it.

If we in fact lack souls, or if we otherwise want to focus on this-worldly matters, how should we live when it appears that happiness and meaning are competing values?

When confronted with the prospect of happiness and meaningfulness taking us on different paths in an earthly life, some lighthearted folks (“hedonists”) would recommend going for happiness, doing whatever they can to maximise pleasure in the long run, while other, heavier souls (“stoics”) would maintain that happiness is overrated and that meaning is what counts.

My perspective is different.

I think that the best sort of life, or at least a really good one, would include both happiness and meaningfulness.

Although one sometimes has to choose between these two values, one ought to strive for a life in which there is plenty of both.

How to do that?

Sometimes the best one can do is to alternate pursuit of them.

Nurses who confront intense suffering and death on a daily basis might have no choice but to put in their “meaning time”, and then afterwards go dancing at a nightclub or play on their iPad over a glass of wine.

Another strategy, however, would be to seek out a life in which there were both happiness and meaning at the same time, so that one did not have to give up on one in order to have the other.

That probably should not mean just taking a “happy pill” so that one can withstand the monotony of an assembly line. Instead, one could engage in activities that both particularly deserve reactions of esteem and admiration and that, by their nature, tend to produce pleasant experiences.

The examples I have in mind are ones in which there is happiness with labour and meaningfulness without sacrifice.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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