The equation looks simple, but getting the numbers right is the hard part. Fortunately, well being does not include calculus. And no, the number is not 42 as in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything“, calculated by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years.
Happiness and Meaning provide two powerful motivations in life. Scientific American provided some research on the difference between the two and that happiness and meaning are essential elements of well-being. There appears to be a synergistic effect where one can increase the other but they remain different. One can be happy playing video games even though you would be better off learning something new or completing that homework assignment.
The one thing that increases meaning in life but likely causes unhappiness would be having children of course. Having children seems meaningful when you are finally playing with the grandchildren that go home at the end of the day as opposed to the times when you are up at 3 am with a colicky baby.
Other studies have found that feeling heathy or having wealth contributed to happiness while wisdom contributed to meaning but detracted from happiness. So happiness relates more to having your needs met while meaning relates to helping others met their needs.
Meaning possesses two major parts, a cogitative processing component which makes sense of and integrates experiences and a purpose component which includes motivation and long-term goals. This demonstrates the potential negative impact of attempting to be happy all the time and not experiencing the full range of negative emotions needed for personal development. While connotative processing strongly relates to a passion and perseverance to long-term goals. Which is quite a long-winded way of saying Grit.
Looking back, I can see how I imposed a level of grit into my life approach. My life moto turned out to be you only fail once you stop trying. I certainly had to apply this throughout all my years of university. I was incapable of giving something up once I started it. Unfortunately, I have not included house cleaning as part of those tasks that I am not prepared to give up. I recognize a Sisyphus boulder pushing task from the get go.
Processing and purpose fuse together to provide meaning in life. Examining your life brings to mind Aristotle’s teaching that the unexamined life is not worth living. A more positive way of saying this would be that processing your life makes living more worthwhile. Although behavioral economics has already taught us that that people feel losses twice as much as they feel gains, so Aristotle may have had it right the first time. People are more encourage to act in order to avoid a loss.
Life examination does not appear to be one time thing, but rather an all-time thing. You can’t just examine your life once and forget about it. Each step seems to require its own examination to see how it all fits together.
Speaking of great philosophers, Vince Lombardi said something similar. “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while. You don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately so is losing.” This can be applied in numerous situations as we constantly examine our lives and continue to live our life with purpose. The final part, about the meaning of life needs can now be phrased as to how to live with long term goals and perseverance.
So when it comes to goal setting, what would Vince, or Jefferson do in a similar situation? Jefferson spent a great deal of his youth studying. He laid out in great detail how one should study and for how long. From 8 o’clock in the morning till dusk he would study all areas of science, law and agriculture. From dark till bedtime he devoted his time to poetry, drama and literary criticism with an emphasis on Cicero’s speeches. At night, he ran past the city limits and back again. After Jefferson, all other presidents stood on the shoulders of this giant.
Taking Jefferson as a role model, we can see the benefits of the setting long-term goals for the mind, body and spirit. Had he lived another ten year, it’s unlikely that he would have allowed his work to have been interrupted by checking the telegraph machine every few minutes.