Meaning and Happiness

BuddahIs happiness a component that leads to fulfilment or is it a product of being fulfilled?  Before I get lost in translation, let me simplify:  “should we strive for happiness in our lives or will happiness inevitably manifest when we become fulfilled?”

What got me thinking about this was an article I read recently called “Meaning is healthier than happiness”.   Let me explain.  The premise of the article was based on an old saying “healthy body, healthy mind”.  However, new studies indicate that just being happy may actually be detrimental to the physical body if it is not accompanied by meaning (which ultimately provides a person with fulfilment).

If we pursue the concept of fulfilment and contentment down the proverbial rabbit hole, we are obligied to examine the concept of happiness and the role it plays.

According to Barbara Fredrickson, a psychological researcher who specializes in positive emotions at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Steve Cole, a genetics and psychiatric researcher at UCLA, the human body has a ‘forward planning’ immune system.  It’s hard coded to our genetics that certain emotions will prompt the body to prepare itself for specific and predicted threats.

Put simply, loneliness and adversity puts the body into a state where it is primed to fight bacterial infections. Why?  Well they surmise that our ancestors would often spend long days and nights alone whilst hunting and this often resulted in serious infections because of deep scratches and wounds from predators and the actual act of stalking and hunting.  The flip side of this is when we are doing well and engaged in healthy social interactions, the body shifts and prepares us for viral threats, which is an element of being around other humans.

neuroscience-and-enlightenmentLike me, I bet you’re wondering what the *bleep* this has to do with happiness or meaning for that matter?  Well, like neuroscientists who use MRI scanning to determine how regions in the brain respond to different stimuli, Cole and Fredrickson wanted to see how the body, at a genetic level, responds to feelings of happiness and meaning.

Here are their findings, which I will paraphrase:  if you are happy but without meaning in your life, your body goes into the genetic expression akin to that of the loneliness and chronic adversity mode (the body goes into an inflammatory state producing an excess of what it needs in preparation for the stress it anticipates)!

Simply put: just being happy places the body under the same negative stressors that being unhappy does!  SO – are they saying we shouldn’t be happy?!   No, not at all!  It’s a complicated study but very interesting to read and has certainly shifted some of my preconceived notions of what it really means to be happy and fulfilled.

In a world dominated by books on happiness and personal wellness, I thought this was an excellent opportunity to highlight the importance of having meaning in your life as opposed to simply seeking ‘happiness’.

Their study further reveals that the inflammatory state is offset by having ‘meaning’ or purpose.  In other words, people who derive happiness from their purpose or meaning gain a sense of fulfilment and do not create those inflammatory stressors in their bodies.  This is in stark opposition to happiness derived from purely hedonistic pursuits.

What is happiness?  The obvious answer, given to me by my four year old niece was simply – “it’s a good feeling”.  Ah, the genius of a young mind, never a truer word spoken, don’t you think?  It strikes me as almost philosophical.

happinessHowever, ‘a good feeling’ devoid of meaning can be defined as: “an empty positive emotion” and is similar in nature to a manufactured high from narcotics. This is but a chemical illusion that fools the body and mind and quite frankly can be as devastating to your well-being as chronic depression and adversity.  So, yes it is a good feeling, but the body cannot sustain it constantly, unless ‘the good feeling’ is born from fulfilment.  In other words happiness obtained through being fulfilled is actually healthier for the body.  Could fulfilment be the mind-body connector?

Meaning, incidentally, is described as finding a connection to something greater than the self or in a word to be ‘selfless’.

Okay – so enough with the crazy science speak, let us revisit my initial question and a draw conclusion:  “should we strive for happiness in our lives or will happiness inevitably manifest when we are fulfilled?”

In my humble opinion:  Meaning will provide fulfilment and fulfilment provides a healthier happiness.

If we live a life without meaning, our life simply becomes a patchwork quilt of moments in time matted together, and I can almost guarantee that upon reflection, you will find that it will lack purpose and by association it will be void of fulfilment too.  Thus by proxy your happiness will not be as satisfying as it could be.

DNAHelixThe human spirit is hard coded to survive – but our survival has always been dependant on meaning and purpose.   Finding purpose is part of who we are as a species.  It drives progress and evolution, and it is this that is ultimately what separates us from animals as we are able to function beyond base instinct.

If you want to see a real change in your life, give it meaning.  Find a meaning rather than a logical reason and you will naturally be driven to success.  The application of meaning to any part of our lives will result in a change.  How great and successful is dependent on your meaning.  If you struggle to find real meaning, start by becoming more purposeful.  Set goals and targets to achieve.  This will lend direction to your life and with direction comes meaning.

Try it now.  Evaluate your life by asking one simple question:  am I fulfilled?  If the answer is no, check out my program – The 5 Steps to Clarity and lets get you on the right path.


Concrete BlocksGood old writer’s block – like a bad Mafioso movie, my inspiration to write has felt more like a pair of cold, heavy concrete boots (the ones that see you sink to the bottom of a murky river) rather than my usual exuberance.  Instead of wielding my pen like Zorro – fleet footed, elegant and full of pizazz, my pen has felt more like a butter knife in the hands of a lumber jack!  And it would seem this allegory was quite apt given the mounds of scribbled and scrawled paper around me.

So what brought me out of the dreary depths of fallen writers?  Well, inspiration it seems is often found when you are at the bottom of the lake looking up (proverbially of course).  And just like that, the weighty, grey cement blocks released me from their grim depths and I was back!  Ironically, I’ve been talking about the ‘Fog of Life’ recently and have even devised a program centred on this state of mental vagueness, so it came as no surprise that irony abounded when my inspiration returned.

Blurred LensesLet me explain.  My creative lenses were seriously blurry and my thought process was stagnant!  The irony was that I was making it worse by inadvertently creating a habit by mentally repeating the same negative thoughts: “I have writers block, I have no inspiration to write”.  What exactly is a habit?  It is the repeating of an action, emotion or thought until we believe it to be true.  It moves from our conscious mind into the unconscious and that’s when we stop “thinking” about it and instead it starts to happen automatically.

Once that happens, a habit has been formed.

An action, emotion or thought compounded by repetition will bury itself into your subconscious.  And so by repeating that negative phrase to myself consistently, I was starting to believe I had lost my mojo.  Extreme and dire I suspect, but the unconscious does what it must to make the conscious believe – think about that the next time you ‘argue’ with yourself.

One of the biggest repercussions of being stuck in ‘The Fog of Life’ is the very real possibility of your unconscious accepting this as your life’s status quo.  I call this ‘negative habitising’ (yes a made up word and hopefully a book waiting to happen).  I’ve said it before;  our reality is what we believe it to be.  The addendum to this is that we create our reality by repeating actions, thoughts, emotions or processes.

RepetitionThe good news is that ‘negative habitising’ is 100% reversible.  You can choose to habitise positively because the unconscious is totally reprogrammable.  Simply remember this:  habits are a symptom of repetition.  The more you do something, the more it becomes second nature. This is true for all things (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual).  So, why not choose to create more empowering habits instead of limiting ones?  I cover this as part of my course – The 5 steps to Clarity, so if you are in need of some help or know someone who is – please get hold of me by using the Contact Me tab at the top of right hand side of this page.

Below I have provided an introduction to the four principles of ‘positive habitising’ and here is a simple acronym to help you remember them: L.O.V.E


‘We are who we are because of what we say we are’ – a bit of mouthful but read it again slowly.  We define who we are by the language we use daily.  So a useful first checkpoint on your road map is to listen to what you are saying.  Self-awareness is perhaps the most fundamental aspect personal development.  Second is language.  They say the pen is mightier than the sword but then what of words and your voice? Be aware of what you say, not only to others, but also to yourself.

Once you have heard yourself, make the change to a more appropriate language set, I call this language optimisation.  An easy way of doing this is to make a list of all your negative words that you have been using and then flip them.  For example: “I can’t” becomes “I can” or “I will”.  Here’s a challenge for you – try not to use the word “don’t” for a whole week and instead find a positive substitute.  Change your actions, emotions and thoughts by optimising your language.

Listening to what we say is the first step.  And then changing what we hear is the second, the third one is obvious – say it.  Say it or vocalise it.  Affirmations are a wonderful way of training yourself to think ‘better’.  Write down a list of empowering statements. Make them relevant to what you want to change, and write them in both current and future tenses. Repeat out aloud daily. Remember step one – listen; you need to vocalise in order to listen.  Eventually you unconscious mind will begin to accept this as reality.  The real power comes from repetition so vocalise and repeat daily!

Lastly, when we are passionate about something or we have a goal that motivates us, the human conscious system accepts this much more readily and easily (and quicker) than repetition.  So find your empowering event or a purpose to drive you.  Purpose gives us direction, and when we know where we are going, it is easier to find enthusiasm to create interesting and positive habits.

As usual any questions or queries are welcome.  Happy habitising people.

The Emotional Harness

Table MountainCape Town.  Land of the long, flat mountain and gratefully a place I get to call home.  I had forgotten just how beautiful this city is.  You can smell the fresh, crisp sea air while you drive yourself around in the warm embrace of the mighty African sun and you are never lost because the gentle behemoth stands tall and is always there to guide you. I’ve been out of touch with Afrika (deliberately spelt with a K) for quite some time now.  I chose to distance myself from her complicated development and instead invest in an old, established order.  Upon my return to the motherland, I ponder was it worth it?

The United Kingdom is the epicentre of modern development.  The engine room of Europe, she stands regal, proud, and defiant as ever acting as a colander of culture.  The world passes through and inevitably stains her, but what is truly palatable is that the flavour you get (and believe me, it’s not something you will forget in a hurry).

Perhaps the latter is a fickle anecdote, but the point is that anyone who lives in London will leave a changed person.  There is an energy about London that is difficult to verbalise.   It’s fluid and modern yet stoic and rich in tradition.  This paradox continues as the Union Jack stands as a bastion of cultural freedom and yet the royal monarch resides over the country with such grace and charm that you are blissfully unaware of how contradictory it all is.

London Skyline

Love it or hate it – London is marmite. It’s certainly not for the foolhardy, because it is a real city that will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t adapt and play properly.  But on the flipside, if you do play properly and you will be rewarded with more than you can imagine.

I believe in learning from experience and that is exactly what you will get when you accept London as part of your life.  “Experience is the greatest school master” – It’s an old phrase that I heard my dad use when I was younger and I never really took much stock of it until recently.  As many of you know, due to immigration laws and policies, I unfortunately had to leave London recently.  And typically, when your journey is suddenly diverted, one responds with a range of emotions that are both positive and negative, but ultimately you tend to reflect on your journey.  And suddenly my old man’s words came alive – experience is the greatest school master.

Leaving London was extremely difficult.  Much more than I had anticipated.  I looked forward to my new journey but upon departure I suddenly felt a torrent of overwhelming sadness.  It washed over me unexpectedly and it was debilitating. It felt like a harness that kept me bridled to something uncontrollable. And never mind the little voice in the back of your head, I had a choir of demons sing tunes of despair and folly. I didn’t enjoy that at all.  In fact I found myself sitting in the sterile cubicle of an airport toilet sobbing.  I felt like it was in slow motion as the tears fell from my eyes and splattered on the cold, hard tiles below, the world I knew for seven years had evaporated and now I was faced with the cold, hard unknown.

Tron Light CyclesAnd it was in this moment of pure melancholy that the words ‘emotional response and focus’ came slicing through my jagged emotions.  To paint an accurate picture imagine the light cycles from Tron.  Blue and yellow transparent walls of energy and light slicing through my dark mood. Introducing themselves with a stern, clean punch that caused me to catch my breath.  And with that, I dried my eyes, blew my nose and I took out my little red book of ideas and wrote down the following:  “to create an optimised outcome, I need to have an optimised emotional response”.

What is an ‘optimised emotional response’?  That sounds like a bit of psychobabble if you ask me!  Well that’s what I thought when I first heard it.  It’s crazy how conditioned we are not to accept something new or how autonomous our response is to something we know will change us or at least challenge us.  But all that it means is simply this:  by learning to control your emotions, you can get a more favourable outcome for yourself.  Think about it:  If you are angry and upset when dealing with a customer service person – what do you think the likelihood of resolving the issue quickly and pleasantly will be?  I’m going to say zero.  However, if you make a conscious effort to change your emotional response to the person, you will be able to influence a more positive outcome.  Being aware of your emotions is the first step in gaining emotional intelligence.  Here is an exercise that helped me when I first learnt about the power of emotions:  Try taking stock of your emotional responses to everyday events and people. Make a note of it, and I mean literally – write it down.  Capture the emotion that you felt.  Be specific with regards to the emotion and the event.  Also note down your outcome of the interaction.  The object of the exercise is simple; become aware of your emotions.  Once you are aware of your emotions, you can start to ‘optimise’ them so that you get an ‘optimised’ outcome.  Simples (for all my London readers).

Throat ChakraAnother good exercise is to try and verbalise your emotions.  Talk to someone you trust, be open and honest (I am always here if you need someone to talk to, just use the ‘Contact me’ tab at the top right of this page).  Find words that describe your emotions.  This can be extremely helpful in understanding yourself and understanding your emotional responses.  In Hinduism, it is said that talking stimulates the throat chakra and talking about emotions can help to bring balance.  Being in a state of balance is a wonderful way to focus on the ‘correct’ aspects of life because what we focus on is what we will get.  It is the manifesto of the universe – we attract what we focus on.  The problem however is not being aware of what we are focusing on.  We do it instinctually and most often without conscious direction.  If you consistently worry about money, you are in fact focusing on the negativity of the intention.  By being aware of what you are focusing on, making a conscious effort to redirect your thoughts and intentions to something more positive, you have the power to change your reality.  It’s not something that happens overnight and as with anything new it requires practice.   But with time and patience you will begin to transform your life.  It’s a secret that’s been with us throughout the ages. Except it’s not really a secret, it’s just common sense.