“Humans may resemble many other creatures in their striving for happiness, but the quest for meaning is a key part of what makes us human, and uniquely so.”
That’s a quote from a 2012 research paper by Roy Baumeister and other researchers. In September 2013. Professor Baumeister published an essay on Aeon titled “The Meanings of Life.” He says. people are happy when they have most of what they want, and they are focused on the present. In contrast a meaningful life might be unpleasant now but ties into a bigger purpose. For example, being a parent is not always fun, but it can be quite meaningful.
Happiness comes more to people who are takers. Alternately meaningful lives accrue more frequently to givers. It’s possible to sacrifice without love, yet it may not be possible to love without sacrifice. Meaningful implies that your life will have value beyond yourself.
When a friend received a life-time achievement award, 1000 people heard her challenge us to “lead lives worth imitating.” Her challenge became an important idea in my book and the book’s subtitle.
You influence people. You may not be elected to high office or wear a uniform and a badge. You may not sign scores of paychecks. Instead, perhaps, you get your family off to school or work most days. Perhaps you aim to help people minimize their blunders and increase their chances of success.
Whether you recognize it or not, people note what you do. You’re not necessarily the most important person that they know. Yet probably you’re somebody they attend to, and it’s likely they respect you. Your legacy comes from living out your values, from investing in others. To the extent that you use your days and your decades to help others become better versions of themselves, you’re creating a better legacy for civilization. Thanks; keep it up.
Now, let’s get back to happiness and meaning.
Abraham Lincoln said most people are about as happy as they want to be. Roy Baumeister and others who study happiness believe that Lincoln was right. We can choose to be content with our circumstances, or not. Etymology Online says that the root of the word happy is “lucky.” Happiness may not take much effort.
In contrast, almost everything worthwhile that you and I attempt is hard. Aiming to lead a meaningful life means you’re not guaranteed success. There will be frustrations, delays, unpleasant surprises, unexpected victories, and adventure. Adventure means you don’t know the outcome.
In tournament chess there’s a concept called “sacrifice.” The player gives up something of value in hopes of gaining a better opportunity. The sacrifice is gone; it is irretrievable. If the player miscalculates, the blunder often costs the game. Alternately if there’s a guaranteed gain, it’s not a sacrifice. Then, it’s called an exchange. Sacrifice is giving up something costly in hopes of obtaining something better. In pursuing a meaningful life, you’re making sacrifices in hopes of something more worthwhile.
Many entrepreneurs take risks in hopes of gaining wealth or market share or some other economic value. In love and in life we take risks and pay costs which we hope will benefit others. Sometimes the risks pay off. Other times they don’t. Sometimes you bring a gift and the receiver is indifferent. Other times the response is wonderful.
Legacy matters. Sometime in the next 100 years you and I will be gone, Friend, many want you to have a happy life, and I hope you do. But my desire for you is that you also lead meaningful life, a life worth imitating. That takes effort and risk and sacrifice, but it’s worth it.
What have you encountered in the last 90 days that challenged you to live outside your comfort level? What have you done that gave value to someone else, maybe at the cost of your happiness?
You know I always look forward to hearing from you.
Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.”