“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
These words were quoted by Rabbi Eli Freedman from the bimah of Congregation Rodeph Shalom during Yom Kippor, the holiest day of the Jewish year. The essence of his brilliant sermon contrasted the difference between a happy and a meaningful life. To paraphrase and then to further delineate, happiness has more to do with having your needs satisfied, getting what you want, and feeling good, whereas meaning is more related to developing a personal identity, expressing one’s self, and consciously integrating our past, present, and future experiences. In other words, when searching for happiness, we often look outside of ourselves- what do I want, what can I get, where can I go. When we are in search of meaning, we look to what we can do for others.
Numerous studies have shown that factors such as feeling connected to others, feeling productive, and not being alone or bored contributed to both happiness and meaning. However, there are some important differences. The ease of life, health, feeling good, can all be more closely associated with happiness. Deep thinking about oneself and one’s abilities in helping people in need are more associated with meaning. The more people felt their activities were consistent with core values of their self, the greater meaning they reported in their activities.
Emily Esfahani Smith, in her 2017 book The Power of Meaning, points out that when people talk about what makes their lives meaningful, they talk about having relationships that are defined by a sense of belonging, having a purpose or something worthwhile to do with their time, crafting narratives that help them understand themselves in the world, and having experiences of transcendence or self-loss.
Success comes out of leading a meaningful life. When we set meaning as a goal, we experience a deeper and more durable form of well-being, and we experience happiness along the way. I am honored and deeply humbled to help people discover meaning in their lives, discover their why, and be more impactful and satisfied in the world.