Sometimes it feels that our culture has nearly reached a saturation point in its focus on the pursuit of happiness: thousands of books, blogs, and websites purport to help us get there, with techniques ranging from the empirically validated (exercise, mindfulness, gratitude) to the rather murky (which often involve paying someone something.) But more and more research is starting to delineate (link is external)between happiness in terms of pleasure, versus happiness in terms of a sense of purpose and meaning. The former often focuses on hedonic experiences: “happiness” in the two-dimensional sense, feeling joy or pleasure that can be fleeting but undeniably feels positive in the moment. Of course, sometimes we search for this pleasure in ways that ultimately make us feel worse: impulsive spending, irresponsible sexual interactions, unhealthy food choices or substance abuse. The latter research focus, however, looks more at experiences that might not be purely pleasurable but increase our sense of connectedness to deeper values. These activities and connections may not always be easy, but they feel to us like reasons for living. Such experiences often involve a greater satisfaction with one’s life on a deeper level, and may just be more valuable than superficial “happiness” when it comes to overall emotional well-being(link is external)and also physical health.(link is external)
What’s trickier, though, is actually cultivating a sense of purpose. How do you find meaning in a world that offers no shortage of stress, in a life that can all too easily be filled with the worries of getting through the responsibilities of the day? Unfortunately, it seems that many Americans are indeed struggling to connect with that deeper sense of meaning (and we’re not doing so great i(link is external)n the happiness measures either). If you want to begin to think more deeply about these issues, there are some simple questions you can start with. How might you find your sense of meaning? Read on.
1) When are you in flow? For more than four decades, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has studied the concept he named “flow,(link is external)” which has become a pillar of positive psychology research. When you are in flow, you are so fully engaged and immersed in an activity that you feel relaxed but also challenged, interested but not stressed. I like to describe it to clients as doing something where you lose your sense of time, and you focus only on the task at hand, in a positive way: it is the opposite of clock-watching (where you want so much for a task to be over.) So, what type of activities bring you to this place? Are there parts of your job that you love, and that you feel like makes the time speed by? Are there hobbies that seem to make a Saturday afternoon disappear, in a good way? Are there people you spend time with who help you forget your worries, get rid of past baggage and future concerns, and just be? These clues can help fine-tune what resonates with you most deeply in life.
– Andrea Bonior Ph.D.
Image source – Flickr.com