May 2, 2019 in Sociology

Happiness and A Meaningful Life

Protection of human rights to life is one of the common laws that are of concern to every nation. The need to ensure that a person’s life is protected from loss that arises from unnatural causes such as murder and diseases arises from unquestionable sources of law such as the Bible and Koran among others. The Bible outlines murder and bad treatment of people as unacceptable by the Supreme Being, who is God. Gillon (1994) argues that though protection of human rights to life is important, the kind of life that one lives is more important. People should be given the right conditions that can ensure that they have a good life regarding their access to basic needs and their overall living standards.  The right to life is connected with the quality of life of a person. For instance, if a person does not have access to public health care due to lack of finances, that person’s right to life is threatened.  Individuals in the society, as well as governments, work towards a common goal of creating a meaningful life. The government is involved in the provision of social amenities such as subsidized health care and education among other things as a way for ensuring that its citizens have quality lives. Similarly, individuals engage in different activities such as acquiring education, seeking employment and investing with an objective of creating and increasing their sources of incomes which determine the kind of life that a person lives.  Moreover, apart from economic activities, there are other social activities that are aimed at ensuring that people have a good life such as religion and traditions. 

However, Veenhoven, (2013), observed that there is no precise definition of what constitutes a happy and a meaningful life. Accumulation of a large amount of money, being in positions of power and high education levels are some of the things that people wrongly consider as being sources of happiness. A politician who does have not only power but also has large income does not necessarily have to be happier than another individual who is a low-income earner.   The definition of happiness is relative and depends on an individual’s belief of what constitutes a meaningful life. This paper is aimed at giving my opinion of what is happiness and how happiness is related to meaning of life. 

Definition of happiness

First, happiness cannot be measured hence people have different opinions about happiness and the level of happiness. What one person may consider as leading to great happiness might not be considered in the same manner by another individual. Past experiences and a person’s expectation are some of the things that determine their definition about happiness. For instance, a student who has never passed in a certain course may be very happy for reaching the minimum target required to pass in that course while another who has always done well in the exams may be unhappy for scoring the minimum required points. 

 

According to Oishi et al. (2013), happiness is a person’s thought of what entails a good life, which includes freedom from suffering, flourishing, well-being, joy, prosperity, and pleasure.  Though happiness is immeasurable, there are ways through which one can determine whether they are happy or not. Psychologists affirm that happiness refers to the well-being of a person regarding their psychological wealth. The psychological wealth determines human strengths. The psychological wealth is a combination of life satisfaction and more positive thoughts with little negative emotions ( Diener  & Biswas-Diener, 2011).  For one to be happy, they must be able to access most of the things they need in life and hence be satisfied and also have positive emotions.  Happiness does not imply that a person does not have bad experiences that result to negative experiences, but those negative experiences should be less that the positive emotions.  A person does not have control over the emotions that they develop, but they have an influence on life satisfaction. A person’s attitude towards certain things determines whether they are satisfied or not. As such, people can determine their likelihood to be happy or not to a certain extent but do not have full control over happiness.  The kind of emotions that a person develops is a work of the brains which occurs as reflex action as a reaction to external stimuli.  I agree with Diener & Biswas-Diener’s, (2011)  idea of happiness as a psychological activity.

Moreover, psychologists assert that though happiness is subjective a person is always aware of their psychological state, that is, whether they are happy or not, and the changes in their states of minds. A person can tell when they are extremely happy and when they are not.  The changes in the levels of happiness can help in measuring the happiness of a person, but it is hardly possible to develop a universal scale of measuring happiness. 

Similarly, Scoffham, & Barnes,  (2011) assert that happiness is a state of the mind that changes from time to time. In their definition of happiness Scoffham, & Barnes,  (2011) outline a description of the things that are associated with happiness yet they do not automatically result to happiness.  They argue that though happiness is associated with good feelings that a person has, to be happy does not require one to feel good all the time or constantly. This argument is based on the fact that happiness is a combination of other things apart from moods. Availability of a source of income and a supportive family are some of the things that bring happiness to people yet they are not moods. 

Secondly, happiness though is related to a person’s level of satisfaction or their availability to acquire things that they need for their survival, as well as luxurious goods that are meant for pleasure, does not require one to be extremely rich or own everything that they need. If this were the case, nobody would ever be happy since it is hardly possible to achieve everything that one needs to be happy as there are things that are necessary to finding happiness yet cannot be purchased with money. 

Thirdly, Csikszentmihalyi (2013) believes that happiness unlike other goals of life can never be achieved fully. There is no single time that one will reach the climax of happiness. Happiness requires continued effort where a person must always work to gain the desired level of satisfaction in life.  Happiness is explained as a combination of more than one factor, life satisfaction and positive feeling (ibid). Moreover, happiness varies from one person to another and people have different views of degrees of happiness. However, various studies agree that there is a link between happiness and the meaning of life.

The kind of life that a person leads is of interest not only the person concerned but also to other people. Parents are concerned with the habits and the character of their kids as there is a certain kind of life that they wish to see them live.  The kind of life that a person lives is not of interest only for children, but adults must also live according to the expectations set by the society. Csikszentmihalyi (2013),  argues that people must lead a meaningful life failure to which the impact of living cannot be experienced.  A person must ensure that the life they live does not only help them but also has an impact on lives of other people. The ability of a person’s life to create an impact on others is what constitutes a meaningful life. However, just like it is the case with happiness a meaningful depends on an individual’s perception of what constitutes such as life. There are, therefore, varying, ideas on what is a meaningful life.

What constitutes a meaningful life?

A meaningful life according to Deresiewicz (2014), cannot be defined by a simple term but can be explained as a complex term that comprises many other activities that work together with a common goal of achieving satisfaction.  A meaningful life is, therefore, the kind of life that brings a person some level of satisfaction.  A meaningful life is not a feeling, mood, a psychological state like happiness, but it is a human activity that involves working in pursuit of happiness.  Moreover, a meaningful life depends on two main things; a global way to understand one’s life and the belief that life itself is meaningful. People believe that the state of being alive is by itself meaningful, and this explains the need for the rights for life.  One must be alive and have the required conditions that are necessary and support a good life to have a meaningful life. A life is in danger or whose survival is not guaranteed is not meaningful. Additionally, for one’s life to be meaningful, it must meet the society’s expectations. The society sets certain standards that a person must meet in order to be considered valuable in the community or as one who has a meaningful life. 

There are different views regarding what is a meaningful life as there are many different ways in which a person can behave and meet the expectations set by the society.  Frankl (1975) ( as cited in Park & Peterson, 2010),  defines a meaningful life as one that has some value. Frankl’s view of a meaningful life is based on the argument that one cannot be said to have a meaningful life if they do not make in contribution towards their survival and also to other people. He compares a person with other things whose usefulness is determined by the kind of contribution they make failure to which they become meaningless. The value of a person is given by their ability to be creative, their experience and attitudes.  The creativity of a person is very important as it helps the society to solve problems and handle challenges effectively. Experience, on the other hand, is very important as it does not only show a person’s past contributions but also their ability to help in similar areas in future. Similarly, attitudes of a person determine their behaviors and the consequent impact in the society. 

Becker (2010) believes that a meaningful life arises from the existence of a society and cultures that set standards for people.  People cannot lead a meaningful life outside a structure that is created by a society. Society shapes the life of people and sets goals for them which they must strive to achieve. People are not conscious of their importance or role in the society and, therefore, cannot live a meaningful life if the society does not give them certain responsibilities to achieve. There is a correlation between culture and a meaningful life.  While culture is concerned with shaping people’s behaviors and also dictating the kind of relationships that they establish with other people, the meaningfulness of life depends on whether or not people observe the culture and meet the standards set by their culture.  Culture creates awareness where people become interested in becoming noticeable in the society by engaging in activities that make them to be recognized.  Additionally, Becker (2010) argues that a meaningful life does not involve the act of being a life but the contribution of people in upholding the society’s culture. 

Sydner (2005) (as cited in Burrow, 2010), however, does not agree with the assertions that a meaningful life is one that has value and which makes certain contributions that conforms to the society’s expectations.  A meaningful life according to Sydner (2005), is a personal issue where the society’s influence is minimal. It is an individual who can tell whether or not their life is meaningful.   However, a person must possess the ability to self-control and have high self-esteem in order to have a feeling of a meaningful life. A person with self-control is able to make choices and decisions and, therefore, is aware of his or her activities. The self-awareness is a component of a meaningful life. Moreover, a person must have a good feeling about their actions. The good feeling is what determines one’s self-esteem. A meaningful life is achieved when a person is aware of their ability to do certain things and most importantly control their actions. A meaningless life is one where a person must be controlled and be compelled to act in a certain manner. 

The meaningfulness theory agrees with Sydner (2005) that a meaningful life depends on an individual’s belief of what entails such a life and that the society has little influence in determining a person’s idea of how a meaningful life should.  The notion about a meaningful life varies from one person to another and depends on what a person feels about their life.  However, the theory acknowledges the idea that there must be a certain level of satisfaction for one to have a meaningful life.  Satisfaction in life together with enjoyment, happiness, positive attitude and hope are important in making life meaningful. They give a person a purpose in life. I tend to agree with the above arguments that a meaningful life must involve a person’s purpose in life. One must have something that they wish to accomplish to live a meaningful life. 

Additionally, Ward & Brown, (2004), argue that it is possible for a person to be alive and not have a meaningful life. A meaningful life is achieved when one is aware of the importance of their actions and most importantly, the usefulness of those actions in their lives. If a person cannot explain why they need to do certain things and how those activities are of use to them, then they do not have a meaningful life. Ward & Brown, (2004), outline a criterion for determining whether a life is useful or not. The steps for achieving a meaningful life are as follows;

Know what is Important

Bing actively involved in activities does not necessarily imply that a person has a meaningful life. It is not every activity that is important to a person. A person is destined to achieve certain goals and not be everything. It is, therefore, important for a person to determine what activities are useful in their life. The identification of important things is the first step of having a meaningful life. It allows a person to be certain of what they need to do.

Pursue Your Passion

One must be able to do what gives them motivation to live and their purpose in life. A meaningful is achieved when a person achieves their purpose in life.  A person’s purpose in life cannot be determined by external factors more so society’s expectations but must be identified and pursued by an individual to have a meaningful life. A person who does not have the ability to know what their usefulness in the society is but relies on choices of other people cannot be said to live a meaningful life as their life depends on decisions and choices of other people. There is, therefore, a relationship between a person’s passion and a meaningful life. 

Discover Your Life’s Purpose

A person must know why they live in order to have a meaningful life. Everyone has a role to play, and it is only through the fulfillment of such roles that one’s life becomes meaningful. It is important for a person to discover their talents and abilities that can give them something to accomplish and create an impact in the society.  

Be Self-Aware

Self-awareness is very important for everyone who wishes to live a meaningful life. Self-awareness enables a person to stick to their principles and avoid unnecessary distractions they might hinder them from achieving their purpose in life. Moreover, self-awareness enables a person to identify their passion and come up with strategies on how they can fulfill their purpose in life. Self-awareness allows a person to be unique and outstanding and avoid imitating other people. Imitation does not give life a meaning as one tends to live the life of another person.

Focus

The ability of a person to remain committed to their purpose in life is an element of a meaningful life. After identifying things that matter and one’s passion a person must remain focused and avoid distractions failure to which they cannot achieve their purpose hence fail to have a meaningful life. 

People More Than Things

The true meaning of life is realized one chooses to impact on the life of other instead of acting selfishly.  Besides accomplishing one’s purpose in life, one has a responsibility to ensure that their life is appreciated. This requires paying attention to needs of other people in the process of working towards living a meaningful life. A meaningful life is achieved when a person has a healthy relationship with other people than with objects. 

Live With Compassion

Though it is important to focus on what matter to a person to achieve a meaningful life,   it is important to ensure that one is mindful of other people. One cannot achieve a meaningful life if they selfishly concentrate on their needs. A meaningful life and happiness goes hands in hand and compassion are a key determinant for happiness.

Find a Way to Give Back

A meaningful life has to go beyond self-fulfillment to contributing positively to the society. Giving back to the society gives a person a purpose in life. It is through contributing to the society that one realizes they have a role to play in lives of other people and identify their greater purpose in life.

Simplify Your Life

Leading a meaningful life does not necessarily require a person to engage in many activities (ibid). It is not the amount of work that one does that determines their meaning in life but rather their productivity. It is, therefore, important to ensure that one leads a simple life that has a purpose.

Set Daily Goals

It is hardly possible to achieve a meaningful life without proper management of time and clear classification of goals depending on their importance. A meaningful depends on how a person conducts themselves on a day to day basis. It is, therefore, important to ensure that one has short term goals that will enable them to achieve their long-time goal that is to have a meaningful life.

I conquer with Ward & Brown, (2004) that a meaningful life is that which enables a person to meet the following four human needs; Purpose, values, Efficacy, and self-worth. One must be able to know why they exist in the society and make a difference in the community through their actions. It is the impact that one has in the society that makes them distinguishable and outstanding from the rest and, therefore, can be recognized as having a meaningful life. Dormant people or those who do not make any contribution or create a change in their lives and the lives of other people cannot be said to have a meaningful life. Creation of a meaning must involve creating an impact. 

Societal values associated with an individual brings a meaningful life in the sense that they shape a person’s behaviors in a certain manner and most importantly allow an individual to contribute to the society by doing what the society expects them to do. People end up living a meaningful life in their effort to uphold their values.

Efficacy, on the other hand, refers to a person’s ability to perform certain activities with expertise. Efficacy enables a person to be trusted and to be relied upon in the society. The fact that a person can be relied upon by other makes their lives meaningful.

Lastly but not the least, the need to achieve self-worth is also important in enabling a person to have a meaningful life. The self-worth awareness makes a person set certain standards, have personal expectations and consequently engage in activities that make them acquire respect and a feeling of self-worthiness.

How happiness is related to meaning of life

Happiness and meaning of life are interrelated. One cannot have a meaningful life when they are not happy, and similarly one cannot be happy if they are not living a meaningful life. A meaningful life is achieved when a person sets certain goals in life and achieves them. The fulfillment that comes from being an achiever is what brings about happiness. According to Veenhoven (2013), happiness refers to the level of satisfaction that one gets in life plus other positive feelings and emotions.  This implies that a person must be satisfied with the kind of life they live, which depends on whether they are living a meaningful life or not. 

Additionally, a meaningful life refers to a person’s ability to live a purposeful life where one is aware of what they need to do in order to benefit them or benefit others. However, the primary goal of living a purposeful life is to acquire certain benefits by doing what matters to them. One of the things that one should consider when determining what is important to them, is whether the activity brings them happiness or a level of satisfaction. It is the degree of happiness associated with a particular activity that makes a person choose what to do and what to neglect and enable one to classify activities that matter to them in their order of preference.

In conclusion, there is no universal definition of happiness as people have different opinions on what constitutes happiness. However, people agree that happiness is an internal feeling that arises as a combination of more than one thing. One must have achieved a certain level of satisfaction to be happy and most importantly, must have positive feelings in life.  Moreover, happiness is what gives life a meaning. One cannot have a meaningful life if they are not satisfied. However, happiness also depends on whether a person has a meaningful life or not. The need to achieve a certain level of satisfaction is what connects happiness with a meaningful life. Both happiness and a meaningful life cannot be achieved if the absence of satisfaction.

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