Meaning in the present moment

photo via  The Bunny System

photo via The Bunny System

Roy F. Baumeister's illuminating article on meaning versus happiness shows how these two qualities often move in opposite directions. 

Happiness is a feeling state centred on "now". It's about getting the material goods that you need and want, your health, and what others do for you. Meaning comes from something entirely different: 

Meaning and happiness are apparently experienced quite differently in time. Happiness is about the present; meaning is about the future, or, more precisely, about linking past, present and future. The more time people spent thinking about the future or the past, the more meaningful, and less happy, their lives were. Time spent imagining the future was linked especially strongly to higher meaningfulness and lower happiness... Conversely, the more time people spent thinking about the here and now, the happier they were. If you want to maximise your happiness, it looks like good advice to focus on the present, especially if your needs are being satisfied. Meaning, on the other hand, seems to come from assembling past, present and future into some kind of coherent story.

The difference is deeply relevant for writers. Awareness can't be turned off, and people who feel the world through a relationship between past, present and future are often left to deal with that perception in solitary and unconventional ways. Rather than a choice, the act of writing, painting, singing, or other creativity becomes an imperative. It reflects a need to bring all three aspects of time into a present moment. This is precisely what the Buddhist idea of living in the present means.

Living a meaningful life doesn't make happiness impossible, but it can be difficult in a perverse and self-reinforcing way. For a chance at happiness meaning makers need their contributions to be recognized and paid for accordingly, but that's unlikely in an economy that penalizes the pursuit of meaning.

We're forfeiting a critical opportunity. Global society's most pressing challenges demand long-term thinking and new solutions, collective solutions that connect our checkered past to a sustainable and more enlightened future. This is possible by valuing long-term meaning over disposable happiness. It's possible by empowering people who create meaning, and doing so would be a tremendous act of meaning in itself.

  

Bullshit job vs meaningful life

photo via  cadoges.com

photo via cadoges.com

David Graeber's essay on bullshit jobs is a masterpiece that demonstrates the pointlessness of most work, the psychological and spiritual damage this brings, and the way people are fooled into directing their well justified anger towards those who build lives of true meaning.     

The answer clearly isn't economic: it's moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on its hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the 1960s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.
Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don't like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinetmakers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish... somehow they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there's endless piles of useless, badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it's all that anyone really does.
I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

Indeed. The piece could be dismissed as a hippy-fueled desire for a utopian "welfare" state where nobody works and riches fall from the sky. If its possible to have that, I say why not, but there's another way to look at it that can appease the most ardent pragmatist.

In a world of rising population and dwindling oil/resources there's one quality that we have in remarkable surplushuman creativity. It's the source of any true sense of meaning, and any intelligent economy, or enterprise, would maximize that quality not stifle it.