The Allure Of A Happy And Meaningful Life

January 23, 2015

ons - measures of national well-being

I guess most people would like to lead a ‘happy and meaningful’ life and over the last few years the notion of ‘well-being’ has even found it’s way into national surveys (see screenshot above and link below).

So I was interested (and a bit surprised) to recently come across this

Being happy and finding life meaningful overlap, but there are important differences. A large survey revealed multiple differing predictors of happiness (controlling for meaning) and meaningfulness (controlling for happiness). Satisfying one’s needs and wants increased happiness but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness. Happiness was largely present-oriented, whereas meaningfulness involves integrating past, present, and future. For example, thinking about future and past was associated with high meaningfulness but low happiness. Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness. Concerns with personal identity and expressing the self contributed to meaning but not happiness.

The underlying research project is described here, and some extracts are

Our findings depict the unhappy but meaningful life as seriously involved in difficult undertakings. It was marked by ample worry, stress, argument, and anxiety. People with such lives spend much time thinking about past and future: They expect to do a lot of deep thinking, they imagine future events, and they reflect on past struggles and challenges. They perceive themselves as having had more unpleasant experiences than others, and in fact 3% of having a meaningful life was due to having had bad things happen to you.

One can also use our findings to depict the highly happy but relatively meaningless life. People with such lives seem rather carefree, lacking in worries and anxieties. If they argue, they do not feel that arguing reflects them. Interpersonally, they are takers rather than givers, and they give little thought to past and future. These patterns suggest that happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.

Our findings are broadly consistent with the framework that happiness is natural but meaning is cultural. Although humans use money and other cultural artifacts to achieve satisfaction, the essence of happiness was still consist in having needs and wants satisfied. The happy person thus resembles an animal with perhaps some added complexity. In contrast, meaningfulness pointed to more distinctively human activities, such as expressing oneself and thinking integratively about past and future. Put another way, 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.

It’s certainly food for thought – in particular, I’m now wondering if I should try to make my life a bit less meaningful!

On a more practical note, there’s an interactive graphic on some measures of national well-being here (provided by the UK Office of National Statistics). The screenshot above is taken from this site.


Power, Inertia And Entropy

January 19, 2015

As it’s the start of 2015, I’m mulling on what to aim for professionally this year (and thereafter), so I’m quite susceptible to articles on this topic. Whilst there’s no easy answer, getting others’ views is often handy even if it’s only to prompt a questioning of my current viewpoints.

Recently from Seth Godin:

A tactic might feel fun, or the next thing to do, or a lot like what your competition is doing. But a tactic by itself is nothing much worth doing. If it supports a strategy, a longer-term plan that builds on itself and generates leverage, that’s far more powerful. But a strategy without a goal is wasted.

In this context, I quite liked this quote (which pre-assumes you have a clear and challenging goal):

“Yes is the destination, No is how you get there.” – Andrea Waltz

The problem is that tactics and delivery are comparatively easy and give the immediate impression of progress being made whilst developing good strategy is really hard and because of this is often effectively ‘avoided’.

From an earlier post on this topic (A Cascade Of Outcomes):

Good strategy is rare. Many organizations which claim to have a strategy do not. Instead, they have a set of performance goals. Or, worse, a set of vague aspirations. It is rare because there are strong forces resisting the concentration of action and resources. Good strategy gathers power from its very rareness.

Competitors do not always respond quickly, nor do customers always see the value of an offering. Good strategy anticipates and exploits inertia.

Organizations experience significant entropy—the continual drift towards disorganization. Much of the useful work of managers and consultants is maintenance—the constant battle against entropy. Strategists must battle this never-ending drift towards disarray within their own organization. And they must try to exploit the disarray of their rivals.

These aspects apply to small businesses just as much as to large ones.


Searching For A Cause

January 3, 2015

Tidying up the kitchen recently, I turned on the radio and a 10 hour BBC dramatisation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace was on (here)!

During the short part I had the time to listen to, I heard this:

It is beyond the power of the human intellect to encompass all the causes of any phenomenon. But the impulse to search into causes is inherent in man’s very nature. And so the human intellect, without investigating the multiplicity and complexity of circumstances conditioning an event, any one of which taken separately may seem to be the reason for it, snatches at the first most comprehensible approximation to a cause and says ‘There is the cause’……

There is, and can be, no cause of an historical event save the one cause of all causes (i.e. God). But there are laws governing events: some we are ignorant of, others we are groping our way to. The discovery of these laws becomes possible only when we finally give up looking for causes.

A bit more on this topic, causation and complexity, in relation to Tolstoy’s War and Peace can be found on the Oxfam blog, From Poverty To Power.


The Wisdom To Be Successful

January 2, 2015

The TED clip above features cardiologist Jonathan Sackner-Bernstein and he makes the case that age is/can be an advantage in making discoveries or coming up with new ideas and products.

He also makes the point that it’s your obligation to do something about any insights you might have, as even though you may not have the ‘energy of youth’, you do have the wisdom of experience. He gives a variety of interesting examples that support his case and has the nice turn of phrase ‘the wisdom to be successful’.

I found his own story very compelling (15:45 in the video) where he had a hunch that something was wrong with a widely acclaimed drug for heart disease. The end result was that the drug got turned down, making a massive impact on healthcare (financial and medical). The process for carrying this through must have been unbelievably tough, both in steadfastly believing his hunch as well as relentlessly pursuing it’s consequences. Obviously sometimes you’re going to be wrong but that shouldn’t be an obstacle to taking action (fear of failure).

I have to admit that I’ve fallen into this trap myself, thinking that most interesting things need the vitality and curiosity of youth. That obviously has an important role to play but, as he emphasises, it’s only part of the story and ‘making a difference’ can anyway take a variety of forms. Like Fleming (who was 47 at the time), keep an eye out for your mould, it’s probably already in front of you!

I came across this clip by chance and found it very inspiring, especially as the New Year is just starting.