Happiness and Meaning

October 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Image from Amazon website

Nick Powdthavee’s book The Happiness Equation has got me thinking about if happiness really is the thing to seek. Perhaps if we seek happiness then we are going to go along the path of dissatisfaction.

I was in on Piers Roberts from Designersblock and John Wood from Goldsmiths’ meeting. We talked about lots of interesting things but one thing struck me relevant to this: John Wood said they were trying to find a balance within their team, but Piers said that actually it’s a flow that we should try to find, not a balance. I think what he meant is that change is inevitable, so things can’t be kept in a constant balance. Giving space for a flow of positive and negative, low energy and high energy, all the opposites to happen, is what works better.

Perhaps, then, actively trying to seek happiness doesn’t work. People will be happy and unhappy in their own flow. As long as that flow is healthy, is it worth trying to help those people?

So, either there’s the problem of helping people who are stuck in an unhappy place and can’t access happiness – depressed people. Apparently there are a great number of depressed people in the UK, more than other countries.

Otherwise, there’s an opportunity to help people do something that may lead to them being happy – something more than happiness. This could apply to anyone, but I’m particularly interested in dissatisfaction.

Powdthavee mentions Raymond Angelo Belliotti’s book Happiness Is Overrated. Belliotti claims (and backs up with psychological/economic studies) that pursuit of meaningful experiences is more worthwhile than pursuit of happiness. Spending time looking after your children does not necessarily make you happy – they can be a right pain – but they bring new meaning to your life. Perhaps ‘meaning’ in life brings fulfilment. Would someone with a life full of meaning be more fulfilled and satisfied?

Happiness and satisfaction are two different things but they do overlap.

Psychotherapy is a massive moneymaking industry, particularly in the States. There are quite a lot of other therapies too: art/music/dance therapy, hypnotherapy etc. Maybe we could create a new service that isn’t therapy, that will help people feel more satisfied with their lives. Perhaps not a service, perhaps it’s a film of a story about someone who finds satisfaction, that could inspire people to find their own satisfaction.

However, there is a problem with this idea entirely. Dissatisfaction drives our society into spending money. I love The Story Of Stuff – this is where I got the idea from.

If people are more satisfied, they will spend less because they won’t feel like they need to fill a hole. They will find more satisfaction in appreciating what they already have – because that’s how to be satisfied, right? (Please let me know other ways of becoming satisfied). If they appreciate what they have, the desire to replace what they have (as brands such as Apple push for) will become less, so they spend less. This is bad for many businesses, and therefore bad for economic growth. Success of a country is often measured by economic growth. A lot hangs on it. Economic growth is fundamental to our system.

But why?

I want to find some answers to this. My life would be much easier if I thought that economic growth was more important than life satisfaction.

Also in Powdthavee’s book he says that being in a bad mood makes you work hard and persist, and being in a good mood helps you be creative. Maybe it’s useful for our nation to be depressed because then we work harder. What’s better, productivity or good moods? Is it a wonder that we have among the least legal holiday allowance in the world? (Actually it might be the least in Europe, I can’t remember).


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