Here’s the thing about happiness and security. They’re not your friends. Oh, they act like your friends and you’re happy to see them when they turn up, but really, they don’t have your long-term best interests at heart. The truth is, they’re keeping you from the things you really want in life. They’re keeping you from joy and fulfillment.
Happiness vs. Meaning
Happiness comes from the part of you that seeks distraction and personal significance. Happiness is impermanent, and worse, creates diminishing returns. What makes you happy today, might not make you happy a month from now. You’ll need more. And more. And more. It’s a little like running on a treadmill, chasing a carrot.
Or in my case, a cupcake.
Now meaning, well that comes from somewhere deeper. Meaning comes from the part of you that is seeking connection, growth and contribution. Meaning is permanent and irrevocable. And, it gives multiplying returns. If you seek meaning, the things you do in your life will be more valuable, certainly to yourself, but also to others. Meaning can’t be all about you. By definition, it requires you to look outside of yourself and your experiences, to the lives and experiences of others.
See the difference?
Let’s Talk About Security vs. Risk
Here’s what I know for sure: your tolerance for risk and uncertainty is the single biggest determinant of the quality of your life. Your willingness to be uncomfortable, feel challenged and unsure and to potentially fail is absolutely required for the achievement of anything important.
Security is nice and we all need a little. Living in a constant state of uncertainty is exhausting and bad for both your mental and physical health. But what happens when we have too much security? Boredom sets in. So we distract ourselves with food, alcohol, drugs, television, drama, sex, shopping…etc. Take a good look at the gossipy person in your office. I guarantee he or she is bored off their ass. Busy fulfilled people can’t be bothered with gossip.
How it All Works
Forgive me, I went to business school and have spent the past few years as a consultant so I’m compelled to present you with a 2x2 matrix.
(In my view) There are 4 Types of People in the World
A person's type, is determined by, you guessed it, their preference for happiness or meaning and their tolerance for risk.
Let’s start on the bottom left.
People who have a low risk tolerance and a preference for happiness over meaning become bored consumers. Despite constant consumption, they feel empty, though are unable to put their finger on just what’s wrong. So, they distract themselves with more shopping, eating, drinking, mindless television, porn… you know where this goes. They are generally lonely.
Almost as sad, are the people with a low risk tolerance, but a high need for meaning. Because they’re unwilling to risk failure, they never reach their full potential. Instead, they become increasingly frustrated by their inability to live up to their potential. So they slog along in misery. Or worse, they become team players. There’s nothing worse than a team player, but I’ll leave that to another blog post. They are betraying themselves. And this can leave them lonely and empty.
The scariest people are those with a high tolerance for risk and a low need for meaning. These people are shallow, overly fixated on personal significance and prestige and often have a win at all costs attitude. You see them racing about dangerously in ridiculous sports cars. A whole bunch of them ran Enron together. They’re the toxic boss who brags about the size of his annual bonus while drinking too much at the company Christmas party. Like the bored consumers, they are empty and lonely much of the time.
Finally, there’s the best people on earth. Those with a high tolerance for risk, and a high need for meaning. These are the people who build businesses, products and organizations that change the world. They create art and novels and plays and movies and TV shows the move us and change us personally on a fundamental level. They are joyful. They are fulfilled.
Get yourself in the upper-right-hand quadrant.
It’s where it’s at.
Learn how here.