My birthday is coming up, and that day always asks for a time of reflection: What have I done this year. What have I learned? What have I conquered? What did I have to go through to evolve into a more developed me? Sad moments, moments of intense joy? Any regrets? Would I do it all again if I could? In other words: What makes a year meaningful and satisfying? Or a life for that matter!
Background on a meaningful and satisfied life
Words often associated with a meaningful and satisfied life are happiness, joy, gratitude, friendship and love. Happiness is a concept hard to define but crucial for feeling satisfied with our life. So how can we describe it? Many of us would say “you know you’re happy when you feel it”, it is a sense of joy, lightness and contentment, the feeling of being “OK”. Another important concept for feeling happy, meaningful and living a satisfied life is gratitude. Gratitude is described as a positive emotion involving (inter)personal appraisal (Algoe, Haidt & Gable, 2008). Because appraisal needs conscious processing, gratitude is essential for consciously living a meaningful life. For example, you might have a date with a dear friend. You could be sitting there, drinking your coffee, discussing some important and unimportant topics and eventually say your goodbyes and go on with your day. Or you could do all this, and help yourself to be in the moment and appreciate your friend, the coffee, the warmth inside and the abundance of the event. Which one of the two scenarios will give you the most happiness, joy and satisfaction? Probably the last, you’ll say. And no doubt, that is true. Due to gratitude: being aware of all that you may be thankful for, and not taking it for granted, but appreciating it for the gift that it is.
Friendship was another important ingredient for happiness (Layard, 2005). We engage in friendships for numerous reasons. We develop mutual liking and shared activities, loyalty and mutual aid (Tesch, 1983). We like to share, this is often a typical female aspect of friendship, but still. I believe that men like to share as well, though possibly in different ways than through endless conversations about all-but-nothing. We all flourish due to relationships: we enjoy social trust, less stress, better health and more social support (van der Horst & Coffé, 2012). And these are only some of the confirmed benefits of friendships.
Finally, love. In any way possible, maybe one of the most important aspects related to the multi-dimensional concept of a meaningful, happy and satisfied life (Anderson, 1977; Diener & Lucas, 2000; Freeman, 1978; Myers, 1992). Without experiencing love, people feel like they missed out on something. Love can make us feel complete. We all have the urge to give love and to be loved in return, to be a part of something special. A sense of comport, of acceptance, of caring without conditions provides us with great joy. A tenderness that makes us feel deeply connected will provide us with great happiness (Kim & Hatfield, 2004). Love does this all. Therefore, it is a crucial part of happiness and to a meaningful and satisfied life.
One very important factor next to all the ones mentioned before, is hope, I’ve come to experience. I mean the kind of hope that is based on the belief that though living in genuine and lasting happiness is a tricky task, it can be done! Or as the Dalai Lama once said: “There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful the experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster”. If there is no hope, the world easily becomes a darker place. We never constantly feel happy, joyful, grateful or loved. But if in those moments, we do feel the hope; that at some moment in time, we will recharge on these positive emotions again, it makes the bad moments bearable. So, whatever you’re dealing with, try to hold on to hope. Cherish hope, that at some point in time, you will be the happy and meaningful person you’re destined to be. Though, it’s often easier said than done. But choosing to be optimistic feels better, doesn’t it?
Algoe, S. B., Haidt, J., & Gable, S. L. (2008). Beyond reciprocity: gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8, 425-429.
Anderson, M. R. (1977). A study of the relationship between life satisfaction and self-control, locus of control, satisfaction with primary relationships and work satisfaction(Doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University, 1977). Dissertation Abstracts International, 38, 26389A, (University Microfilms No. 77-25,214).
Diener, E., & Lucas, R. (2000). Subjective emotional well-being. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland- Jones (Eds.)., Handbook of emotions. New York: The Guilford Press.
Freeman, J. (1978). Happy people: What happiness is, who has it, and why. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Kim, J., & Hatfield, E. (2004). Love types and subjective well-being: a cross-cultural study. Social behavior and personality, 32, 173-182.
Layard, R. (2005). Happiness: Lessens from a new science. London: Penguin Books.
Myers, D.G. (1992). The pursuit of happiness: Who is happy and why? New York: William Morrow & Company.
Tesch, S. A. (1983). Review of friendship development across the life span. Human Development, 26, 266–276.
van der Horst, M., & Coffe, H. (2012). How friendship network characteristics inﬂuence subjective well-being. Social Indicators Research, 107, 509–529.