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  1. According to three Polish scientific researchers, the values that we all come to realise in life are drawn from our personal strivings and our own motivations. As a result, people are able to attain a greater level of meaning in their lives, their work suggests, so long as they remain motivated. For some, this might seem an obvious proposition: being motivated by your values means that you will achieve a greater sense of meaning in life. However, the hypothesis had not been fully tested until Zuzanna Siwek and her co-authors, Anna Oleszkowicz and Aleksandra Słowińska, first published their research paper into the subject in 2016. Building on Established Psychological Theories According to Siwek at al., their work – which was carried out on a sample of Polish university students - started out from the point of view of two commonly accepted theoretical ideas in psychology. The first was developed by Deci and Ryan which is often referred to as self-determination theory (SDT). Their idea is that motivation in individuals addresses issues of competence, relatedness and autonomy. For psychologists, competence the term used for our desire to control outcomes. Relatedness is best described as our innate desire to connect and care with others. Finally, autonomy is our desire to be the agents of control in our own lives. You can think of it with the ability to make decisions for ourselves. Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is dealt with under SDT. For most psychologists, motivation is not a single concept but something that changes depending on the situation. What might motivate you at work might not be the same as at home, for example. Since the 1970s, psychological studies have referred to intrinsic motivation as our natural desire to face new challenges and engage in play with things we are curious about. Conversely, extrinsic motivations are not innate. These are motivations that come from outside of our inner selves, such as rewards for performance or mere praise. To break it down greatly, SDT claims that people will grow and function optimally when competence, relatedness and autonomy are working in harmony. Competence is when we try to control the outcome of something and relatedness is how connected to others we are in our actions. Finally, autonomy describes the degree of agency we have over ourselves. Siwek's other theoretical inspiration came from the so-called logotherapy that was first developed by the esteemed psychologist Victor Frankl. His theory is based on the reasonable assumption that human beings are motivated by their search for a sense of purpose. According to Frankl, logotherapy is merely a word that represents the search for a purposeful meaning in life. By building on these theoretical ideas, the researchers were able to build a study that utilised Personal Striving Assessments (PSAs), a system developed by Robert Emmons, a Professor of Psychology based in the US. Her teams' findings used these theories to demonstrate that meaning in life is indeed closely related to motivation. It is also related, they found, to a number of other personal values that participants responded to in their assessments which were often manifested in their personal strivings in life. The Research Programme The Polish psychologists had a good sample size for their study. No less than 353 students took part in the programme, 159 women and 194 men. Interestingly, the study's authors claimed that the meaning in life that men and women reported was important to them was different in their own assessments. Men, for example, were more likely to ascribe financial success as being important in life, an extrinsic motivation, whereas women were more likely to value relationships, both intimate ones and friendships, intrinsic motivations. All of the respondents in the study were under the age of 25 and enrolled in full-time education which, the authors freely admit, means that their research is not a reflection of society as a whole. How Do Motivation and Personal Values Lead to Greater Meaning in Life? The research paper reported that behaviour and strivings of intrinsically motivated individuals are, more often than not, directed toward their own interests, a significant new finding. As a result, it was found that people are more willing to engage in personal development as a result of their autonomous motivation. Indeed, Siwek et al. claim that such people are characterised by a greater vitality, improved creativity and better levels of happiness. Moreover, Siwek's team found that different values in personal strivings facilitated differing scores for meaning in life, according to their respondents' own assessments. Although personal motivations varied between men and women in the study, the relationship between them and meaning in life was consistent regardless of gender. Another extrinsic value, that of physical appearance, appeared to make no difference to meaning in life or to happiness whichever group was being looked at. As such, it seems that happiness cannot be wrought from a sense of self-worth that is based on looks alone. Summing up, Siwek claimed that meaning in life is most directly associated with the intrinsic motivation of intimacy and friendship although extrinsic factors, such as reward motivation and financial success, also form direct correlations with a sense of life meaning. She went on to add that although these gender differences were notable, no explanation could yet be offered as to why they exist and that further research would be needed to offer one. Written by Guest Author We are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  2. A meaningful life is something of a subjective matter, you might well think. What is meaningful to one person may, of course, have little meaning for another. Yet, there are certain aspects of fulfilment and happiness that all of us can ascribe meaning to. As such, there have been a number of scientific studies that have been carried out around the world that have delved into the subject.  If you want to know what research programmes and studies have to offer in the search for a meaningful life, then read on. You may be surprised at just how many insights science has to offer on the subject.  1 - Music Can Make You More Creative Music has long been understood to be a form of communication that gets into our souls like no other. It can also help us to be kinder and more helpful, one scientific research paper has suggested. Indeed, integrating listening to music into a daily routine can improve cognition especially where creative tasks are concerned. What's more, the greater the level of joy was conveyed in the music, the more the effect of it was noticed.  What could be more helpful in the pursuit of a meaningful life than listening to happy music and deriving personal benefits from it? 2 - Helping Others Helps Ourselves Could it really be that a meaningful life spent caring for and helping others can be of benefit to the individual concerned? Scientific studies suggest this is the case. One paper published by researchers at Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that people who offer care and assistance to others will be better equipped to deal with their own problems. It seems that moods change when we help others, leading to a greater sense of worth that can assist with coping strategies for life's daily struggles.  3 - General Health Is Not Just Controlled by Genes Although certain conditions are caused by genes and we may feel there is little control we have over them as individuals, scientists are now suggesting we can alter ourselves. Certain genes have been associated with negative mindsets, for example, but meditation can alter them, or at least their effect. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin and some European institutions found that genes that cause bodily problems when we feel stressed are more likely to be suppressed in people who meditate. 4 - You Can Make Your Workplace a More Positive Place to Be Although work may feel like it is not something we have much control over, scientists have shown that acting in a kind way at work leads to a shift in behaviour among colleagues. Put simply, a study published in the journal Emotion demonstrated that kind behaviour was contagious when an experiment in it was carried out in an office in Spain. 5 - Find a Sense of Purpose, No Matter What Your Age Is There have been several scientific studies into the role a sense of purpose has in developing a meaningful life. A recent one focussed on older people and found that this group was just as likely to need a self-defined purpose in their lives in order to combat a number of issues, such as diminishing cognitive function. Essentially, true sense of purpose can reduce the risks of conditions like dementia in older people. 6 - Mindfulness Leads to Better Parenting For some, it is their role as a parent that brings most meaning to their life. Although there are many ways to bring up a child, science has shown that mindfulness leads to improved parenting techniques. According to a study undertaken by the University of Vermont, parents who practice mindfulness are generally more positive and suffer less anxiety in their interactions with their children.  7 - Time Is More Important Than Money All that focus on your bank balance and earning more can improve your material wealth, but does it have anything to say about a meaningful life? According to a scientific paper published in 2016, people who value their time over money are simply happier. Ultimately, science has revealed that our time is the most valuable resource we have when people respond honestly to questions about their lifestyles. 8 - A Happy Life and a Meaningful One May Be Different Living a meaningful life may also lead to greater happiness, but science has shown that the two are not intrinsically linked. Put another way, being happy does not necessarily lead to a greater sense of meaning in your life. According to the Journal of Positive Psychology, there is a correlation between a meaningful life and a happy one, but the two concepts diverge. The pursuit of happiness for its own sake – through hedonism, for example – may not be all its cracked up to be. 9 - Altruism Is Good For You You might not intend deriving a benefit from an altruistic act, but scientific research suggests that you will. According to a large study which drew data from around 200,000 people in 136 countries, giving to others, for example in the form of charitable donations, make people feel happier about themselves.  The researchers called this pro-social spending and suggested that it has a universal psychological impact no matter which culture was being examined. The work theorised that altruism may, in fact, be a product of evolutionary development among humans who derive longer term benefits from concepts like giving and sharing as a whole. 10 - Put Your Phone Down and Interact We've all been in the company of someone who cannot put their phone down and won't look you in the eye. Science suggests this practice has a real detrimental effect on social interactions in the here and now.  It can even lead to friendships and relationships breaking down because of the social exclusion that is felt. Social media may be fine in its proper place, but the latest research suggests access to it should be limited in face-to-face social contexts.   Written by Ed GouldEd Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.
  3. Economic life may be something that seems out of our control. The forces of macroeconomics can appear akin to a tsunami that individuals can do little about. And yet, even an enormous wave is made up of constituent drops of water. Individuals can decide how they spend, save and deal with the world from a financial point of view. Essentially, Buddhist economics looks at finances from a spiritual and ethical angle. Economics is studied from the standpoint of human psychology and how natural emotive reactions can direct a range of economic activities.  What Is Buddhist Economics? One Sri Lankan economist has described a Buddhist economic system as something that “has its foundations in the development of a co-operative and harmonious effort”. [1] Writing in 1976, Neville Karunatilake said that the ideal place to operate in this way was within a “group living” setting. Perhaps building on the ashram idea of communal living espoused by Gandhi, Tolstoy and others, this approach would lead to a diminished level of “selfishness and acquisitive pursuits” which might have been seen in the days the Buddhist king Ashoka's rule.[2]  Referring back to a pre-industrial time, many classically trained economists might easily miss the point of what Buddhist economics can mean for the twenty-first-century world. However, as we shall see, Buddhist ideas about economics have developed throughout the world over the last few decades. This is partly because people are increasingly aware of the fragility of the global financial system and because of the destructive nature of many industrial processes which harm the planet.  In an attempt to address these issues, some economists have tried to look at the principles behind Buddhist ethical teachings and apply them to areas like work, productivity, commerce and even concepts such as ownership. After all, it was the ethical nature of Buddhism that led Ashoka to invest in public works programmes such as those which built hospitals, hostels and parks. Building interest in the ethical dimension of Buddhist economics, the first international conference of its type was held in the city of Budapest in 2007. [3] Further such conventions, which look into all aspects of Buddhist economic thought, from increasing happiness to facing up to the economic challenges of Western economies, have since taken place. How did Buddhist economics get to this level of acceptance among modern academics?  The Development of Buddhist Economics According to the Buddhist writer, P A Payutto, the traditional study of economics has avoided vital questions about human morality and ethical considerations. [4] However, as ecological concerns have become more critical in the eyes of many people around the globe, so ever-increasing growth – something that most capitalist economies rely upon – has become seen as negative. Therefore, alternatives economic views have become increasingly mainstream. Both right and left wing economic views have, according to the zero-growth economic models espoused by certain green politicians, got little to offer regarding preserving the world's resources. Buddhist economics fits into that tradition and has been gaining more significant attention since Payutto started publishing in the 1990s.  The idea of Buddhist economics was first espoused in the twentieth century by E F Schumacher, a German statistician, who came up with his ideas while travelling through Southeast Asia. Schumacher ended up being an economic advisor to Prime Minister U Nu of what was then called Burma. His idea was to reject the economic theories of both Karl Marx and Adam Smith, both of whom focussed on units of labour as being the primary economic drivers in any economic model. Instead, Schumacher espoused a view of economics from a Buddhist point of view.  Essentially, Schumacher opted to redefine work from something that could be sold, for example to employers, or exploited, through slavery or unpaid labour, as well as choosing to view work as something that did not necessarily need to be conducted most efficiently. In other words, his view of work was one that was there to enrich the basic happiness of the person doing it from a spiritual standpoint, not from an economic one. Let's look at what Schumacher means by taking an example. In a factory, the most efficient way of making an item for sale into the wider economy might be to divide the labour up so that each worker does a repetitive task over and over. This simplifies their job function, makes the production method more predictable and lowers costs, especially if production is speeded up significantly. The outcome might be that the factory owner makes more money with such a system. Henry Ford, the American car maker, is often cited as a pioneer of these sorts of workplace practices which were developed for economic reasons. Schumacher turns that idea on its head. He put forward the idea that work should not be measured by economic output. [5]  According to his Buddhist principle, work is there to offer a worker the chance to utilise and develop all of his faculties, not just one or two key skills. Also, this will enable a worker to overcome ego-centric ideas, mainly when work is conducted with other people in a common task, for example building a house together. Crucially, Schumacher stated that work should “bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence”. In other words, work ought to create enough economic output to sustain life but no more. Working just to accumulate more and more wealth is pointless from a spiritual perspective. Being rich is, in other words, counterproductive.  What Economic Problems Do We Face and Which Solutions Do Buddhist Teachings Offer? Since the global financial crisis, many people have woken up to the idea that the economic system that has sustained the West, in particular, may not be the be-all-and-end-all. If the system could crash and the money supply seize up once, then could it do so again? In addition, the rise of China as a global economic force – a country that does not run on liberal economic models – has caused some people to think that the way things have been done does not mean that is the way they must continue. The world becomes more global in its inter-connectedness, so goods move more rapidly and resources are used up.  Some see the emergence of nationalism in recent years as a direct result of global economic trends over which local communities have little control. [6] Global economic challenges like these can be met by Buddhist teachings. Not only do they convey the idea that man is interdependent on his fellow man, but that overproduction for the sake of economic growth is undesirable.  According to Clair Brown, an economics professor at UC Berkeley and the director of the Center for Work, Technology and Society, students she teaches are focussed on the tremendous economic inequalities that globalisation has produced. In a world where the richest one percent of the population own half of all the wealth, it is fair to say that inequality – and abject poverty – is rife. [7]  Brown teaches that happiness, founded on less inequality, and the simple act of helping each other compassionately is the answer to these undeniable economic challenges. She puts forward the idea that economists must let go of the principle that people are fundamentally selfish, that they will always choose the best economic outcome for themselves. By studying cities in the so-called Rust Belt of America, she points out that economists must work in a way that is “compatible with what neuroscientists are finding out about people’s well-being and the way minds work.” [8]  How Can Mankind and Our Planet Benefit? The economic challenges of poverty, inequality, globalisation and ecology can all be met by adopting a Buddhist approach to economics, so its proponents claim. On ecology, for example, Professor Brown cites the withdrawal by the US from the Paris Accords as something that does not ascribe to Buddhist teachings of being mindful of others. Man can benefit from adopting Buddhist economics because of self-interest, so inherent in Western economic models, is illusory. Instead of bartering for the best deal, the approach should be to adopt an economic model of mutual reciprocity.  Why? Because we feel negative about ourselves and others in the former model and a higher degree of happiness and inner peace with the latter. Imagine what could be achieved by humans if everyone just got on better with one another because they felt less pressured to make a few pounds. From a global point of view, this would bring about a deceleration in the exploitation of the Earth's valuable resources, helping to make economic life sustainable not just for today but for future generations.  -  [1] http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110320/BusinessTimes/bt24.html [2] https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/ashoka-6226.php [3] http://laszlo-zsolnai.net/sites/default/files/3/documents/Buddhist-Economics-szorolap-4-oldalas.pdf [4] http://www.urbandharma.org/pdf/Buddhist_Economics.pdf [5] http://www.centerforneweconomics.org/Buddhist-economics [6] https://ourfiniteworld.com/2013/02/22/twelve-reasons-why-globalization-is-a-huge-problem/ [7] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/14/richest-1-percent-now-own-half-the-worlds-wealth.html [8] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_would_buddha_do_about_the_economy    Modelphoto: Colourbox.com  Written by Ed GouldEd Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.
  4. It is part of human nature to think about oneself and to focus on what is going on around us, but this perspective can lead to a false sense of priorities. How do we break out from a parochial view of our lives and start to see things as they really are? By shifting perspectives, we can gain greater insights. Let's examine how.  Changing perspective is a healthy exercise if we want to be empathetic, rational and compassionate. However, changing perspective is not merely about seeing things from the point of view of another. It is just as much about gaining perspective. In other words, our sense of compassion for others need not be the driver for looking for an alternative angle on things. It can help in the pursuit of happiness and a higher level of understanding, too. In fact, simply seeing things another way is good for us not only because it means getting out of a mental rut but because of what we might be missing out on.  Changing and Gaining Perspective – A Classical Illustration The famous Greek philosopher Plato once taught his pupils by coming up with an allegory of a cave. The prisoners in his cave cannot see reality, merely a shadow of it because they are in chains. All they need to gain a higher level of comprehension is to see what is causing the shadows to form – to see things as they really are.  In the allegory, this would mean that the cave dwellers would need to break free from their chains. In a sense, altering our perspective on things means breaking free from mental chains. To extend Plato's metaphor in this manner is fair because changing one's perspective takes effort. Most of us are happy enough to keep moving on in our lives the way we always have – especially if we feel a degree of happiness in our current situation. Nevertheless, unless the mental effort is made, we'll never know what lies beyond the cave or what is causing the shadows to fall against its wall. As such, changing and gaining perspective can be seen as the same thing.  The Benefits of Changing Your Perspective To get a handle on the advantages of changing perspective, there is no need to go back to ancient Greece. There are many more illustrations from more modern times. The author and thinker Benjamin Grant cites just one such example. During the Apollo missions when NASA was working towards putting a man on the moon, the astronaut Bill Anders took one of the most iconic images ever to have been captured by a camera. During the Apollo 8 mission of 1968, the spacecraft orbited the moon several times. As the ship passed by the moon's horizon, he was the first man to see the Earth rise from the moon's perspective. His world famous 'Earthrise' shot, according to Grant, is so iconic because it shows humanity from a different viewpoint.  It should be said that this new perspective is no mere novelty which only looks pretty – although the image is beautiful. The point of view it offers is mind altering. That is its message, its benefit if you will. The 'Earthrise' photograph captures all of humanity, bar the astronauts on the mission, and shows something that feels so anchored and permanent – our planet – spinning in the lonely vastness of space. If you think that such an image is mind-altering from Earth, then consider just how many astronauts have returned from space missions with a new perspective on life and humanity. This, Grant says, is the so-called 'overview effect' which is a consequence of space travel. It can cause profound changes in our brains.  Fruit orchards Huelva, Spain by Benjamin Grant  Grant has harnessed the 'overview effect' in his work. A creator of images, he takes some of the most stunning photographs captured by satellites above the Earth and uses them to create pictures that are designed to alter minds back on the planet. Whether his images are of the tulip fields of the Netherlands, the olive groves of Greece or refugee camps in northern Kenya, he is exposing us to the truth but not as we know it. The colours, the scale and the perspective – everything is shot from above, as you might expect – gives us a view of the world we might know, but also knowingly ignore. His images offer us the chance to gain insights into the fragility of ecosystems, the plight of fellow humans and, yes, to simply marvel at the beauty of the planet.  If you are looking for up-sides of changing perspective, then increasing your happiness is right up there. If your focus is on something that you perceive to be negative in your life and you come at it from a different angle, then you can feel better about it. What's more, you might even find that it helps you to perform better as a result. This approach is called reframing and is just one way in which you can derive benefits from gaining new perspectives. Let's look at some more techniques that will allow you to feel more confident, less self-critical and to enjoy more happiness.  Examples of Altered Perspectives and How to Change Yours For many, altering perspective means becoming less self-centred and moving to a more compassionate understanding of others and the world around us. By stepping outside of our usual perspectives, it can become possible to frame arguments in ways that motivate others instead of leaving them feeling rejected, for example.  Seeing things as 'bad' without taking a fresh view can mean that we get set into a closed loop of negativity. For instance, a relationship breakdown can sometimes lead to negative feelings about one's self-worth. However, a changed perspective might be that becoming single is the start of something new. As a result of reframing your view, you might even gain a higher perspective of yourself, embracing the part of yourself which might not have felt room for self-expression within the relationship.  Academics have done plenty of research into the techniques that will allow us to see things in a new light. Read on to discover some of the principal methods.  Reframing Your Past As previously mentioned, reframing your point of view can lead to tremendously helpful results and renewed chances of happiness. This is particularly effective if you reframe the way in which you see your past. For example, you might say that certain negative outcomes are always bound to happen because of 'the way you are'. You might have been told that you are impulsive or even hot-headed by others and believe this of yourself. However, studies have shown that reframing a negative attribute from your past as a positive one can heighten your performance. Try relabelling your so-called impulsive past as creative, for example, and see how the new perspective can impact on your present.  Problem Solving expressing ourselves is optimistic – in other words, positive, complimentary and generous - we will naturally develop higher levels of self-esteem and a healthier self-image. By getting into the habit of being positive, we can deal with criticism and setbacks much better. Not only does this altered perspective mean that we are better set against potential adversity, but our ability to problem-solve also becomes more efficient. In her book, Putting the Positive Thinker to Work, Potter outlines how reframing perspectives can augment levels of commitment, especially at work, and lead to greater persistence with tasks. This, she argues, is the foundation for most success in the workplace.  Compassion and Understanding By gaining new perspectives, we can become more compassionate to others. It is important not to fall back into bad habits of negative thinking, however. A daily ritual of positive affirmation of yourself and those around you can help to keep your understanding of the world fixed in a better perspective than it otherwise might be. So-called 'silver lining thinking' will help you to see the good in events and to reframe problems as challenges. If you can consciously interrupt negative thoughts that might pop into your head, then this will help you to remain the compassionate person you want to be.  Seeing the Bigger Picture Finally, seeing the bigger picture means sometimes taking a step back and creating time to gain the sort of perspective you'll need for your happiness and compassion. From an astronaut's point of view, seeing the bigger picture comes from literally taking in a macro view of the world. However, we can do this for ourselves, too. Take time to clear your mind, listen to the wind in the trees and rush a little less. Ask yourself what truly counts in your life and, of course, meditation can help you to gain insights into what is most important. The benefits of it are scientifically proven already.     Copyright Fruit orchards Huelva, Spain: Benjamin Grant Copyright Title Picture: Benjamin Grant Here's his amazing caption to the picture: "Before you even ask, this is indeed a real image of Earth! In August 2015 a massive bloom of cyanobacteria - more than 100 square kilometers - was seen in the Baltic Sea. Cyanobacteria are a type of marine bacteria that capture and store solar energy through photosynthesis. While some are toxic to humans and animals, large blooms can cause an oxygen-depleted dead zone where other organisms cannot survive. Scientists believe that blooms are more likely to form in the presence agricultural and industrial run-off or from cruise ships that provide excessive nutrients for the bacteria through the dumping of sewage. Source imagery: NASA"    Written by Ed GouldEd Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.
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