Skip to main content

The meaning of life

What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful.
- Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

At the end of his highly-regarded (by critics) and uber-mightily highly-regarded (by me) book in 2006, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt [pronounced "hite," not "hate," btw. Who'd want to read a book on happiness by a guy named hate?, I ask you.] addresses the ultimate question:  What is the meaning of life, and answers it.

A prime area of my recent homeless studies relate to happiness and meaning:  Two things that homeless folk have in short supply. 

Because the book is four years old, I think it is OK to, sort of, give away the ending.  Indeed, since the book has been around (but is not dated!), I think it might re-arouse interest in the book to give away the ending.  The ending is in context of the chapters previous, so I've included links and footnotes to explain what Haidt is aluding to here and there.

So, here it is, from near the end of The Happiness Hypothesis:

The Meaning of Life

What can you do to have a good, happy, fulfilling, and meaningful life? What is the answer to the question of purpose within life? I believe the answer can be found only by understanding the kind of creature that we are, divided in the many ways we are divided. We are shaped by individual selection to be selfish creatures who struggle for resources, pleasure, and prestige, and we were shaped by group selection to be hive creatures who long to lose ourselves in something larger. We are social creatures who need love and attachments, and we are industrious creatures with needs for effectance1, able to enter a state of vital engagement with our work. We are the rider and we are the elephant, and our mental health depends on the two working together, each drawing on the other's strengths. I don't believe there is an inspiriting answer to the question, "What is the purpose of life?" Yet by drawing on ancient wisdom and modern science, we can find compelling answers to the question of purpose within life. The final version of the happiness hypothesis is that happiness comes from between. Happinesss in not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Our conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger, it is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, betweeen yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.
----
1 The Effectance motive comes from the need or drive to make things happen, after developing competence through interacting with and controlling one's environment. Effectance is almost as basic a need as food or water, yet it is not something that is satisfied and then disappears, like hunger. Effectance is a constant need to progress. It explains why we get more joy from progressing toward our goals than achieving them. As Shakespeare wrote, "Joy's soul lies in the doing."

Comments

Nagarjuna said…
That seems like just about the wisest conception of "happiness" I've encountered.

Popular posts from this blog

More Homeless Hate from Marcos Breton

There was a long spell a handful of years ago when Marcos Breton said something so fully ridiculous in one of his hateful screeds against homeless folk that it appeared to be very apparent he had been taken off the Homeless Beat by his superiors. Unhappily, after a few months, Breton was again writing disparaging columns about homeless folk

In today's Bee [3/5/17], Breton has written one of his longest columns. Online, it is titled "The price downtown Sacramento is paying for Mayor Steinberg’s homeless crusade
"
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/marcos-breton/#storylink= It goes on for days. The message, essentially, is this: Homeless people poop; they're getting a great deal of what they want from the overmuch-helpful mayor; and business people proximate to Chavez Park are made miserable by the forever-disgusting homeless that are there in great number.

O.K. Let's get into all this a bit. Except in Breton's mind, homeless pe…

Homeless Sacramentans lose case that would have given them the right to set up outdoor camping

8/11/13 I certainly give attorneys Mark Merin and Cat Williams credit for pursuing a case against the city of Sacramento to give homeless Sacramentans the right to set up tents and a campsite. I wanted them to win their case, but they didn't. They lost it.

BUT, it is also necessary to look at the particulars of the case that Merin and Williams brought and see that the situation underlying the court case was not very compelling.

During the period eight years ago when 22 homeless campers set up their tents and brought in supplies to Mark Merin's vacant lot at C Street, near 12th, there was loud noise and plenty of other mayhem. Drug dealers were on the street encouraging buys from the campers. The Hernandez couple that lived in a house nearby were constantly being taunted by the campers, disrupting their lives.

Per always with Safe Ground camps, calm was deserted for the sake of boisterousness.

Leader John Kraintz and the other Safe Grounders would claim to have signed strict a…

The Mission Five Years Ago, And Today

I have spent the night the past two weeks plus at the Union Gospel Mission and am having an excellent time of it -- not only regards to sleeping in the dorm that the mission has, but also listening to the sermons that are delivered in the early evening. The Christmas music that is performed is also splendid. [And the food -- the FOOD -- has been fantastic during my stay so far! A happier Tom there couldn't be.] I chatted with a pal last night about The Mish – about how things were about five years ago when we both used the mission’s services frequently, and how thing are, today.
Five years ago, there were a lot scuffles between the guys when the front gate was opened in the early afternoon and in the area near the contact window there were some brawls as guys fought over where guys were in line to get a bed in the dorm.
Nowadays, however, the mission is very much a peaceful place both on the grounds of the facility and and out on the street.
I do not know what transformative eve…