Wednesday, January 30, 2013

There's More to Life Than Being Happy: Meaning

Are you happy? Apparently, there is a connection between being happy and having a meaningful life.

In my January 23, 2013 blog, I wrote about "randomness" and finding "meaning."  My question in that blog was "If you were a firm believer in randomness and in the absence of order in the universe why would you even look for a meaning in life?"

Interestingly, as I surfed the net  a few minutes ago looking for something interesting to blog about, I stumbled upon an article that  addresses my question in my previous blog.  I thought it a strange coincidence that my computer would immediately open to a page that directly relates to the question I had asked.  Could the universe have been listening to me?

In the January 9, 2013 issue of The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith, wrote about Viktor Frankl, a prominent psychiatrist, neurologist, Nazi death camp survivor and author of  Man's Search for Meaning.

Smith narrated a story of how when Frankl was in high school, a teacher said that life is  "nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation."  Frankl responded by asking: "Sir, if this is so, then what could be the meaning of life?"

Here are  some of the thought-provoking  highlights of Emily Smith's article:

1.  There is a correlation between being happy and finding meaning in life;

2. The search for meaning distinguishes humans from animals;

3.  Finding meaning is a choice and involves realizing that there is something in life, bigger than one's self, to sacrifice and live for;

4. Happiness is fleeting whereas finding meaning is not;

5. The mere pursuit of individual happiness is a selfish behavior; while the search for  meaning involves having, or looking to, something larger than one's self. "Meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants"; and

6. Our society emphasizes more the pursuit of individual happiness than the search for meaning.

I invite you to read Emily Smith's work  and  share your thoughts. Here's the link  to Smith's article (please copy and paste on your broser:

What do you think?

 - Ariel Murphy


  1. Here are my thoughts, Ariel, (Finally) concerning these 6 points you list from Emily. I have not yet read the web link, so you may take this with a grain of salt, or perhaps sand if you’re so inclined.
    I have long time friends who are very happy constantly without caring much about finding “meaning in life”. So...I’m not sure the “correlation” in #1, fits for ALL individuals. That could get into dogma, aka religions, which I myself have experimented with from being brought up as a Methodist (and I disliked the whole process, but had no choice as a youngster) married to two non-practicing Catholics, read the 10 Great Religions of the World (I think the book said 10 – lost count), experienced some psychic visualizations in a Psychic-dynamics course in the early 80’s, even ordered a Pyramid once in the era of Pyramid Power. Finally I found Meditation to be enough meaning for me. After all that, I have come to respect others choices in these matters, but for me in later life now, the Cosmos is the meaning I have chosen – I like the science stuff – things that can be proven.
    Of course in any kind of medicine, you are taught NOT to say ALWAYS or NEVER…one doesn’t know from one second to the next, so I’d have to agree about #2. But on the other hand, species such as Dolphins seem to seek out to help humans all the time or ask for help – is it by choice? – are they seeking meaning? #3…a maybe. I am of the opinion that mammalian species originated from the seas and evolved. Maybe the smartest ones stayed there LOL!
    Yes, Happiness can be fleeting, but is it necessarily so? Question mark on #4?
    #5 – Don’t really agree that the pursuit of happiness is selfish anymore than wanting to just live. The “search for meaning” seems to be getting back to religion.
    As for #6, I’ll have to disagree. Yes we have become a society of “things” we think we need or want, but I think most societies, getting back to religions again, want to give us simple answers to the “meaning in life” or finding “the meaning of life”. I like the way Indigenous peoples sought meaning…through respect for the earth, stars, planets and various groups of stars that they named for various occasions. Those were different times then weren’t they?
    So in ending this long docudrama, I will post a quote from Jane Goodall on her experiments with violence in Chimpanzee groups as compared to humans. I liked it…She said “There but for the grace of fortune, circumstance and effective social institutions go you and I.

    P.S. I loved this Blog and many others,and also the picture with quote you created.