In recent years, often an existential dilemma that I faced pertained to choice-making between 'doing something meaningful' versus 'doing something that makes me happy'. Leave alone choice-making, I often lacked the clarity to distinguish between the two. I am not sure I can always distinguish between the two. Do you see these two being different?
In retrospect, not always did I find happy moments providing meaning or the meaningful moves increasing the happiness quotient. I am beginning to appreciate the difference between the two; thanks to my colleague Neha, who shared a research paper from Stanford Graduate School of Business titled Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life (http://ssrn.com/abstract=2168436)
Though significant overlaps exists between 'happiness' and 'meaningfulness'. According to the research carried out by the authors of this paper - happiness is largely present-oriented, whereas meaningfulness involves integrating past, present, and future. Happiness is linked to being a taker, whereas meaningfulness connotes being a giver. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety appear to be linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness. Concerns with personal identity and expressing the self contribute to meaning but not happiness.
As I begin to internalize the significance of this research, I am in touch with the moments that have provided me both. Example - a coaching session for which I got paid (deriving happiness) and I could play a catalytic role in someone's life (contributing meaningfully). There are also moments when only one of these was evident. Once, I took a decision to extend probation period of a newly joined manager working in my team who displayed scant regard for the organizational discipline. He was so upset that within two weeks he quit; that made me very unhappy. Unhappiness emanated from my guilt of having hit someone below-the-belt at his prime stage of his career. At the same time I found it meaningful to set an example of organizational discipline. For years' on after this incident I continued to harbor two emotions unhappiness (displaying lack of patience) and pride (having lived up to my belief about organizational discipline). But for bumping into him accidentally I would have carried that unhappy memory for ever; until, he shared how grateful he felt at that action having triggered a sense of discipline leading to success in his profession.
What's your experience? Keen to learn --- do share your experience and take on this.