Studies show that the best way to deal with difficult times is to seek meaning in the difficulties. There are a lot of sad and restless people in the world now, thinking about how to become happier. But is happiness the right goal to achieve?
A Nobel Prize laureate, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, claims that most people really do not seek happiness at all. At first, these words may sound shocking, but as soon as you understand the difference between happiness and satisfaction, they will make sense.
Happiness is a positive feeling that you get from, e.g. a walk in nature or from a delicious dessert. And this is definitely a pleasant experience. But satisfaction has deeper roots. These are the meaning and sense of achievement coming from a well-lived life. As a rule, people value satisfaction above happiness. And all those things that satisfaction brings (running your own business, raising children) include a lot of effort.
For most people, meaning is always more important than happiness. Experts argue that this is most clearly seen in a crisis.
Meaning helps you survive a crisis
For example, a study by John Yasminovich, a professor at Harvard Business School, showed that having a goal in your career development is more helpful for the development of resilience and success than the pursuit of some kind of imaginary ideal. The scientist proved that if career advancement is complicated, it is the meaning that helps you move forward.
In a recent article in the New York Times entitled The Power of Meaning, author Emily Esfahani Smith argues that the same principle works in times of crisis. Of course, sports, normal duration of sleep, and social interaction are great for maintaining a good mood. However, studies show that the best way to deal with difficult times is to search for meaning in your difficulties.
Esfahani Smith writes: “Encouraging people to look for something good in the current situation with a pandemic may not seem appropriate, but the study of a number of tragedies and catastrophes has shown that this is what truly persistent people do. In a study of over a 1,000 people, 58 percent of respondents reported finding positive meaning in the wake of the September 11 attacks, such as a greater appreciation of life and a deeper sense of spirituality."
In another study, scientists found that people who survived a heart attack can cope with the disease much more successfully if they saw any meaning in what happened to them.
Yoga is good, but having a goal is better
In the light of the discoveries described above, Esfahani Smith advises everyone who wants to become more resilient in any crisis to devote more time to searching for meaning, not happiness.
So, she writes: “... people suffering from stress or anxiety are generally advised to do what makes them happy. Most of the recommendations related to the psychological perception of a pandemic encourage us to distract from bad news and negative emotions, limit the amount of time spent on social networks, and play sports. I do not deny the benefit of these tips, but if your goal is to cope with difficult times, then they do not have as much deep and strong influence on your psyche as the presence of meaning."
Therefore, try to complement your online yoga or baking classes with help for your most vulnerable neighbors and attempts to understand how you can use your activities to fight a crisis. Of course, this will not make the crisis something good, but gaining meaning will certainly raise your spirits and make you stronger than any attempt to somehow reassure yourself.
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