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What do you prefer: living happily, or living meaningfully? It is a key distinction as old as humanity. Hedonism (Epicure) vs Eudaimonia (Aristotle)

This book helps us to reflect which value to live by.

I often noticed this paradox: the more you search for direct and easy pleasure, the more it leads to pain and misery. On the contrary, having the discipline to get through those easy temptations and reaching for something more meaningful, not easy to attain, will overflow you with a deep feeling of happiness that will pay all the effort you put in, and will last much longer.
For example, the "Eat candies all day" vs "Eat healthy food and exercice". Everyone want to take the sweet path, with having the results of the "hard" path.
We want the good results, without the efforts.
Nature is tricky because of the temptations, but is not totally miss-leading: abusing "instant gratification" will result in mental or physical illness / pain. Whereas putting the efforts for a meaningful goal will reward you with a blessing that beats any short-term gratification out there.


What is the meaning of life? That was all—a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.

—- VIRGINIA WOOLF


Introduction

about the sufi: Their demanding spiritual practice—with its emphasis on self-denial, service, and compassion over personal gain, comfort, and pleasure—elevated them. It made their lives feel more meaningful.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, is about a hero’s quest to figure out how he should live knowing that he will die.
The question never stoped ever since:
“What is the meaning of existence?”
“How can I lead a meaningful life?”
What values should I live by? What projects, relationships, and activities will bring me fulfillment?

Historically, religious and spiritual systems laid out the answers to both questions.
Today a cultural transformation has left many people adrift.
For millions both with and without faith, the search for meaning here on earth has become incredibly urgent—yet ever more elusive.

In the late sixties, the top priority of college freshmen was “developing a meaningful life philosophy.”
By the 2000s, their top priority became “being very well off financially”

in 1998, Seligman called upon his colleagues to investigate what makes life fulfilling and worth living.
the empirical research on happiness blossomed and became the public face of the field.
in 2000, the number of books published about happiness was a modest fifty. In 2008, that number had skyrocketed to 4,000.

Though the happiness industry continues to grow, as a society, we’re more miserable than ever.
chasing happiness actually makes people unhappy.

Imagine, Nozick said, that you could live in a tank that would “give you any experience you desired.” It sounds like something out of The Matrix: “Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain.” He then asks, “Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life’s experiences?”

If happiness is truly life’s end goal, most people would choose to feel happy in the tank.
If you choose to live in the tank and feel happy moment to moment, for all the moments of your life, are you living a good life?
Is that the life that you would choose for yourself—for your children?
If we report that happiness is our main value in life, as a majority of us do, then wouldn’t life in the tank satisfy all of our desires?
But the happiness we find there is empty and unearned.
You may feel happy in the tank, but you have no real reason to be happy. You may feel good, but your life isn’t actually good.
With no identity, no projects and goals to give his life value.
“There is more to life than feeling happy.”

Beyond happiness, what makes life worth living?
There is a distinction between a happy life and a meaningful life.
two paths to the good life.

The first is hedonia, or what we today call happiness.
The art of life, lies in taking pleasures as they pass, and the keenest pleasures are not intellectual, nor are they always moral.
Epicurus said the good life is found in pleasure, which he defined as the absence of bodily and mental pain.
“Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure”
“It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.”

We may delight in reading the tabloids and feel stressed while taking care of a sick relative, but most of us would agree that the latter activity is more significant.
It might not feel good in the moment, but if we skipped out on it, we’d later regret that decision. In other words, it’s worth doing because it’s meaningful.

Meaning is the other path to the good life, and it’s best understood by turning to the Greek philosopher Aristotle and his concept of eudaimonia, the ancient Greek word for “human flourishing.”
Aristotle actually had pretty harsh words for those who pursued pleasure and “the life of enjoyment.” He called them “slavish” and “vulgar,” arguing that the feel-good route to the good life that he believed “most men” pursue is more “suitable to beasts” than to human beings.

To Aristotle, eudaimonia is not a fleeting positive emotion. Rather, it is something you do.
It's more about cultivating the best qualities within you both morally and intellectually and living up to your potential.
It is an active life, a life in which you do your job and contribute to society, a life in which you are involved in your community.

If hedonia is defined as “feeling good”, eudaimonia is defined as “being and doing good”. and as “seeking to use and develop the best in oneself” in a way that fits with “one’s deeper principles.”. It is a life of good character.

“The more directly one aims to maximize pleasure and avoid pain, the more likely one is to produce instead a life bereft of depth, meaning, and community.” But those who choose to pursue meaning ultimately live fuller—and happier—lives.

People who say their lives had meaning evaluate their lives as significant and worthwhile—as part of something bigger; they believe their lives make sense; and they feel their lives are driven by a sense of purpose.

Are happiness and meaning two distinctive ways from each other?

the happy life is an easy life, one in which we feel good much of the time and experience little stress or worry.
good physical health and the ability to buy the things that we need and want
the pursuit of happiness was linked to selfish behavior—being a “taker” rather than a “giver”

“Happiness without meaning,” the researchers wrote, “characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.”

Leading a meaningful life, by contrast, corresponded with being a “giver,” and its defining feature was connecting and contributing to something beyond the self.
Having more meaning in life was correlated with activities like buying presents for others, taking care of children.
higher levels of worrying, stress, and anxiety.
Having children, for instance, was a hallmark of the meaningful life, but it has been famously associated with lower levels of happiness, a finding that held true for the parents in this study.

“Those only are happy, who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.”

-- John Stuart Mill