The Philippines is one of the happiest places in the world. This is from the recently released report by the Happy Planet Index (HPI) showing the country in the 20th spot on the list. The report further “tells us how well nations are doing at achieving long, happy, sustainable lives.”
That is true. We are generally a happy crop. We tend to be happy when we get a raise, when we are loved or admired by people around us, or achieve prestige in society. Many people advise others that to be happy is to be content with what you have.
In the workplace, many chief executives and human resource practitioners provide all sorts of activities and benefits to employees such as gym memberships, incentives, etc. to make their employees happy so they will be more productive and stay in the company.
But despite possessing such material things and finding emotional support, many still feel some emptiness within, which manifests itself in the form of depression.
One troubling statistic is the increasing incidence of suicide among Filipinos, especially the youth. While the suicide rate in the Philippines is much lower compared with other countries, the number has steadily risen over a 20-year period, from 1992 to 2012. In 2012 alone, the average went as high as seven Filipinos per day, or one suicide every three and a half hours—that’s a troubling rate.
So, people commit suicide because they’re unhappy, right? Wrong. They do it because they lack meaning—this is according to Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters. The author said “happiness and unhappiness did not predict suicide. The variable that did, they found, was meaning—or, more precisely, the lack of it.”
Research shows happiness and meaningfulness are related, but distinct. People with the most meaningful lives were “givers.” But those with the happiest lives were “takers.” That’s why we tend to be happy when we receive a material gift, or a positive emotion from another. But we find meaning when we do charitable work, when we help in community building, when we create a new business idea and employ hundreds of people.
The best example of finding meaning, as the author pointed out, is parenting. Yes, it’s true that a child gives joy to the parents, but it doesn’t make them happier—cleaning diapers and having zero sleep during the first year does not make anyone happy. But research also shows children bring enormous meaning to people’s lives.
Parenthood is the ultimate form of giving and givers lead meaningful lives. Thus, happiness isn’t everything.
Meaning can immeasurably deepen our lives and is far more fulfilling than the pursuit of personal happiness. But how do we get there? The author, over the course of her research, found four elements that lead to meaningful lives.
Belonging: We all need to find our tribe and forge relationships in which we feel understood, recognized, and valued—to know we matter to others. In the workplace, employees should feel belongingness to their work even further and stay more productive.
Purpose: We all need a far-reaching goal that motivates us, serves as the organizing principle of our lives, and drives us to make a contribution to the world. Employees working with a purpose find fulfilment and contribute more. The most fulfilled ones are those that have a sense of giving back to society.
Storytelling: We are all storytellers, taking our disparate experiences and assembling them into a coherent narrative that allows us to make sense of ourselves and the world. Find a story to tell and share with others—whether work-related or about parenting. Share your journey of giving.
Transcendence: During a transcendent or mystical experience, we feel we have risen above the everyday world and are connected to something vast and meaningful. We have to appreciate the bigness and grandeur of this world. Always be curious to discover and learn things.
Life is hard to many. But anyone can find meaning—you just have to look for it. In this season of giving, may we all find not only happiness, but meaningful lives as well.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author may be emailed at email@example.com. The author is a senior executive at an information and communications technology firm. He is the chairman of the ICT Committee of FINEX. He also teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University.