A sad life is not a bad life. True but…

A sad life is not a bad life. True but…

Just a few days ago, Sarah Berry wrote this interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald…

A rewarding, well-lived life is not necessarily a happy one because happiness and a meaningful life are often incompatible.

As the Nobel prize-winning psychologist and behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman has said: ''People often make choices that bear a mixed relationship to their own happiness.''

The parenting paradox is a prime example. ''Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so,'' wrote Jennifer Senior in New York magazine recently, in an article titled: ''All joy and no fun: why parents hate parenting.''

And yet, as social psychologist Roy Baumeister proposed in Meanings of Life, the paradox can be resolved because people seek not just happiness, but also meaning, ''and so they become parents because the gains in meaningfulness offset any losses in happiness''.

This tug-o-war is something many people, not just parents, struggle to resolve. New research from Stanford and Florida State universities, led by Baumeister, has attempted to differentiate between happiness and meaning. ''Although happiness and meaning are important features of a desirable life and indeed are interrelated, they have different roots and implications,'' the researchers said.

They define happiness as a sense of subjective wellbeing, while meaning is a cognitive and emotional sense of purpose and value. Happiness, they say, is rooted in our animal nature.

''Among creatures with brains and central nervous systems … basic motivations [to survive and reproduce] impel them to pursue and enjoy those needed things, and the satisfaction of those needs generally produces positive-feeling states. Conversely, negative feelings arise when those needs are thwarted.''

Meaningfulness, on the other hand, is related to more sophisticated human attributes.

''Culturally transmitted symbols, via language, [are used] to evaluate one's life in relation to purposes, values, and other meanings that also are mostly learnt from the culture.''

The results of the study, soon to be published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, are as remarkable as they are revealing.

For instance, the authors found that ''doing things that express and reflect the self are important for making life meaningful, but they are mostly irrelevant and occasionally even detrimental to happiness''.

These expressions of self can range from reading to socialising to working to take care of the kids.

Similarly, helping others has a positive impact on our sense of a meaningful existence, but somewhat surprisingly, it has a negative impact on happiness. ''Happiness seems intertwined with the benefits one receives from others. Meaningfulness is instead associated with the benefits that others receive from the self,'' the authors said.

While happiness may involve taking and meaning may involve giving, the authors are at pains to point out that they are both worthy pursuits and the intricate ties that bind the two are not cut and dry…

…and it's this phrase that's important and worth commenting upon

But firstly, you can read the full & original article HERE

Now I very much encourage you to read the full article because I think it's great, well balanced, and I agree with pretty much everything in it…

…except the headline! 

Now I know that journalists and sub-editors like sexy and sensational headlines but this is, in my opinion, misleading. The research does not advocate sadness; there's really no research to support the idea that someone should live a sad life by choice. 

That being said, we will all experience sadness and this isn't entirely bad; we can make meaning of this and when we do, we can live a more meaningful life, which goes towards real happiness. 

So let's understand happiness properly and let's definitely note that it's more than just positive emotions; happiness is about meaning and purpose but let's be careful we don't advocate sadness seeking or throw out the baby with the bath water and forget about the many benefits of pleasure and positivity!