Articles like this one – 4 ways to live a more fulfilling and meaningful life, according to psychology are all over the internet and on magazines staring at out at us at the check-stand. Sigh. Science and all its disciplines like psychology are implied to be these monoliths of TRUTH. But you can’t find an academy of experts who publish these “truths”. So we get soundbites and compact articles on complex subjects that can obscure much more than they reveal by suggesting easy answers to complex questions. And it implies that all of “psychology” or science agrees on some subject.
It reminds me of the Family Feud game show where the host would shout out “survey says!” when it was revealed how a random group answered such questions as “the best pizza topping” or “things you’d bring on vacation”. SCIENCE SAYS! PSYCHOLOGY SAYS! Ok so why aren’t we all smarter and happier?
I couldn’t find an example of the show’s tag line, but here’s Jim Carey from Bruce Almighty:
I find most of these articles on the psychology of making your life better are as over the top as Jim Carey here – “ten ways to find your true love” – “five keys to overcoming procrastination” – “you don’t have to be afraid of family gatherings – seven strategies”.
Actually this article is more interesting and more suggestive of some deeper ideas than most of these pieces on pop psychology. It refers to a book by Emily Esfahani Smith.
She stresses the importance of meaning over happiness as a goal in life. I completely agree.
Smith makes an important point that happiness is not the goal of life.
Pursuing happiness is like trying to walk to Toronto by staring at your feet. It’s a matter of scale. Happiness is the wrong measure of success. It is a guide – an excellent one that helps you to know if you are on the right path moment to moment and day to day, but it is not the goal. The guide is not the goal – it can’t be. Happiness can never provide the broader context that you require to make the important choices in life.
Smith advises us to pursue meaning. And happiness will come to guide you and to reward you. Equally, pain is not to be dreaded, but embraced as a guide.
Finding meaning in life is much more complex than even this video discusses – but to be fair, that’s inevitable. The meaning of life, which I believe is evolution, is such a broad and deep subject that one can only scratch it’s surface in a single chunk of communication – video, article, book, art – whatever.
Ultimately the meaning of life is constructing the meaning of your life – to me that is all in service to our personal evolution – individuation, and the evolution of our culture, society and humanity. Great news – we all have a gig that never ends. But that means (there’s that word again) that there are no easy answers. Every problem we face in our lives – our relationships, our work, our health, our search for fulfillment and happiness, are all tangled up in this process of constructing meaning – everything is connected. That’s one of the reasons that I find Jung such an important figure in psychology. He understood and never recoiled from facing the hard questions and complexity in life, because he appreciated the deep spiritual nature of our lives, quite apart from strict notions of God or religion. Jung understood and advocated that the meaning of our individual lives was central to our existence and everything we do and are.
Those brief and simplistic psychology articles are everywhere and can be helpful to give you a few strategies or to help you see something from a different perspective. But no article, or book, or movie is going to be anything more than a catalyst to urge you forward to do the hard and glorious work that lays before each one of us – evolving – individuating – deriving and constructing our own personal meaning for our life.