Happiness, Meaningfulness, and the Four of Pentacles

The importance and differences between happiness and meaningfulness in our live.

In her wonderful book,The Power of Misfits: How to Find Your Place in a World You Don’t Fit In, Anna LeMind references a study by Roy F. Baumeister on the differences between happiness and meaningfulness.  In some cases, the two experiences may overlap, but they aren’t always synonymous.

It turns out that human beings crave both happiness and meaningfulness.  The Buddha tells us that all sentient creatures want to feel happiness and avoid pain, and we share that drive with the birds and the bees, the turtles and the spiders.  Bring on the happiness, baby, and take away that pain.  That’s an old blues song, I think.

Where we differ from most of the animal world (we believe) is that we also need to have a sense of meaning in our lives.  Having a lot of orgasms may make us extremely happy, but it doesn’t necessarily bring any meaningfulness into our existence.  If we’re lying on our death beds reviewing our lives, we’re not likely to say, “Man, I had 20,000 orgasms.  Now that’s a life well lived.  My life really meant something.”

According to this study, it’s actually pretty easy to define what makes us happy.  Being happy involves three major components:

  1. – having our needs satisfied.  That’s a pretty simple one.  If we’re hungry, it makes us happy to eat.  If we’re cold, it makes us happy to get warmed up.  If we’re horny, it makes us happy to have sex.
  2. – having the sense that we can obtain what we need and want.  In other words, not just eating when we’re hungry but knowing that we have the powers and abilities to get out there and get that food all on our own.
  3. – feeling good most of the time.  That’s kind of a no-brainer, but it’s true.  People who mostly feel good are mostly happy and people who feel lousy are mostly unhappy.

None of those three factors necessarily make us feel that our lives are meaningful, though.  Feeling good, for instance, is very strongly associated with being happy, but not necessarily with feeling meaningful.  People who are very healthy tend to be happier than people who are sick, but both healthy and sick people have an equal shot at leading a meaningful life.

Having the powers and abilities to get what we need and want is another one that may make us happy, but it doesn’t necessarily bring meaningfulness along with it.  In our society, having the power to get what we need and want usually means having money.  If you really, really, really need and want that new computer, you have to have the dough-ray-me to pay for it, right?

But even money has a very strange relationship with meaningfulness.  In the Tarot, the suit of pentacles represents material possessions and money.  In the Four of Pentacles, we see a guy who’s really having a love affair with money.  He’s got his feet resting on money, he’s got his arms wrapped around money, and he’s got money sitting on his head.  What a happy guy!



Could be.

The study found that people who have plenty of money tend to be happier people, BUT they don’t necessarily report living a life that’s more meaningful.  On the other hand, NOT having enough money makes people less happy and their lives feel less meaningful.  So it’s not really the money that counts, it’s the lack of it.

Here’s another interesting little snippet of information that’s about life being easy versus life being hard.  We’ve all known people who appeared to be unbelievably lucky.  It’s like anything they want just seems to fall into their laps with little or no effort on their parts.

And we’ve also known people who seem to be unbelievably unlucky.  No matter how hard they work, no matter how much they struggle and strive, life consistently turns into a shit sandwich for them and their desires and goals slip away like vapors in the wind.

Unsurprisingly, having an easy life makes people very happy.  And having a hard life makes people unhappy.  But neither one of those is linked in ANY way to a sense of meaningfulness.  You can have the easiest life in the world and still feel like it doesn’t mean anything.

There’s another fascinating element with meaningfulness and happiness, which is TIME.

We know how the mindfulness meditation people are constantly hammering at us about, “Stay in the present moment!  There’s no unhappiness in the present moment.”

It turns out they’re right!  Happiness is very highly correlated with living in the NOW, in the present moment, rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.

But, unfortunately, it’s also inversely correlated with having a sense of meaning.  The more you live in the present moment, the happier you’ll be, but you also sacrifice a sense of your life having any overall meaning.

Why?  Because meaningfulness is a function of time.  The greater the span of time in your life that you’re contemplating, the greater a sense of meaningfulness you’ll have.  If you think about what yesterday and today meant, the odds are that they didn’t mean very much, unless something extraordinary happened.  On the other hand, if you think about what the last ten or twenty years of your life meant, you’re much more likely to see patterns and meaning.

And the same thing applies to the future.  The future gives the present moment meaning because it involves us in taking purposeful actions meant to create that future.  What we’re doing today is meaningful because it has a purpose – making the future.

So we have this odd conundrum.  The more we stay in the present moment, the happier we’ll be, but the less meaning we’ll derive from our lives.  The more we dwell on the future and the past, the less happy we’ll be, but the more our lives will feel meaningful.

The study also found an oddity in our perceptions of happiness and meaningfulness.  People tend to view happiness as being relatively fleeting, something we feel momentarily and then it gets away from us.  And they feel that meaningfulness is more permanent, something that will last long after happiness has disappeared.  Which is just not true.  Both meaningfulness and happiness tend to be fairly stable and long lasting.  We probably just feel that happiness passes quickly because it’s so intimately related to the present moment, which is always appearing and disappearing, appearing and disappearing, shazam!

Which brings us to the probable reason for why meaningfulness is so important to human beings.  The author concluded that MEANINGFULNESS IS AN ATTEMPT TO IMPOSE ORDER ON FLUX.  Life is chaotic, man.  Life is constantly changing, constantly transforming, constantly shazamming from one thing into another and then another and then another.

And it drives us nuts.  We need a sense of stability, of orderly progression, of the past moving logically into the present which will then move logically into the future.  We need to be able to connect the past, present and future of our lives in a MEANINGFUL way.  Otherwise it feels like life is something that just happened to us, rather than something we lived.

If all of this sounds very complex, it’s because IT IS.  We are very complex.  To seek happiness is to be alive.  Every single animal on the earth seeks happiness.  But to seek meaning is distinctively human.  It’s who we are.  It’s what we do.  Meaningfulness is not necessarily the same thing as happiness, but it’s just as important.

Introverts, Extroverts, and Becoming a Cookie

My life partner used to say, “I’m my own cookie.”

What she meant by that was that she was the source of her own valuation.  She didn’t need someone to say, “You’ve been a good little girl, so here’s a cookie.”  She could decide on her own that she was a good person AND she could make her own rewards rather than depending on someone else for them.  

Above and beyond all of that – she was her own reward.  Just being herself and being with herself was reward enough.  She was her own cookie.  That’s a hell of a life skill if you can figure out how to do it.

It can also be a really vital life skill if you’re an introvert.  The more introverted we are, the less likely it is that we’re going to get our cookies from someone else.  If we don’t want to starve to death, we’d better figure out how to do some baking.

If you’re reading this, there’s actually a pretty good chance that you’re an introvert.  It’s a pretty simple equation:  people who do Tarot reading are usually empaths.  Empaths are usually introverts.  

When we do a Tarot reading (or any other type of psychic reading) for other people, it’s not about us.  It’s about the life and the experiences and the dilemmas of the person we’re reading.  If we’re going to be effective at that, we have to be able to empathize, to actually put ourselves in their space, and say, “Okay, you’re going through THIS and that makes you feel like you want to do THAT, but perhaps you should consider doing THIS instead.”  If you’re a good reader, you have to be able to suspend your own judgments and really get into the life and vibrations of the other person, to really see it from their perspective.  And that’s called, “empathy,” right?  That’s literally being an empath.

Doctor Judith Orloff, author of, “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” flat out states, “An empath can be an introvert or an extrovert, though most are introverts.”  So, if you’re a Tarot reader, you may be one of those wonderful extroverts who likes to dress up like a gypsy and do readings at Renaissance Fairs.  But the odds are that you aren’t.  The odds are that you’re an introvert and you hate crowds and feel intensely uncomfortable when you’re forced to be around too many people.

Which brings us back to baking our own cookies.

Our society is extrovert-driven.  We’re taught from the moment we come into this world that there’s something wonderfully right about being an extrovert and something terribly wrong with being an introvert.  Think of the terms we use to describe extroverts:  

  • He’s the life of the party.
  • She took center stage.
  • They were vibrant and bubbly.

Now think of the terms we use to describe introverts:

  • She’s a shrinking violet.
  • He’s a wall flower.
  • They faded into the background.

As we grow up, introverts are literally shamed just for being who we are, just for the way we were born.  Brene’ Brown, author of, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” says that our society has an epidemic of shame and that our school systems are 90% shame based.  A lot of that shame is aimed at children who are introverts.

  • She’s too quiet.
  • He doesn’t  play well with the other children.
  • She seems to be in her own little world.

In other words we’re taught that everything an introvert is – quiet, socially withdrawn, introspective, etc. – is NOT NORMAL and is a cause for alarm and a sign of neurosis.

Perhaps one of the most prevalent – and most damaging – myths in our society is that introverts are sort of socially backwards (not to say, “socially stupid”) and that they just don’t know HOW to fit in.  That’s why they spend so much time alone – they don’t have any choice.

Actually, the evidence indicates quite the opposite.  Researchers at Yale University asked over a thousand people to predict how the average, normal person would think, feel, and behave in different situations.  The correct answers were based on data they had already gathered about how the average, normal person actually DID react in those situations.

And do you know who scored some of the highest points on the test?  Introverts.  Introverts were able to predict with a high degree of accuracy exactly how, “normal,” people think, react, and behave. Introverts, far from being socially inept, can be highly tuned into and aware of social norms and behavior, even more tuned into what’s going on around them than extroverts.

So if we’re introverts, the start of baking our own cookies, the start of being our own rewards, is to firmly, thoroughly, once and for all, get rid of all of the BULLSHIT that we’ve been taught about ourselves since we were kids.  We are not socially inept, we are not painfully shy, we are not dull and uninteresting.  In fact, we can be a damned sight more interesting than the social butterflies who are getting all of society’s cookies.

But a more important step is to rethink what the terms, “introvert,” and, “extrovert,” actually mean, once we jettison all of the cultural prejudices.  Anna Lemind, author of, “The Power of Misfits: How to Find Your Place in a World You Don’t Fit In,” has a very simple answer for that:  energy systems.

Extroverts recharge their energy systems through large amounts of social contact.

Introverts recharge their energy systems through having a lot of time to themselves.


Extroverts aren’t any better than introverts and introverts aren’t any better than extroverts.  We’re just different.

The salient point here, though, is that if you’re really and truly an introvert, AND you buy society’s bullshit that you somehow have to be an extrovert to fit in, to get your cookie, you’re going to end up physically exhausted and spiritually depleted. Trying to be around a lot of people sucks you dry. No cookies for you.  Sorry.

As introverts, we really and truly ARE our own cookies.  We draw our energy from ourselves, not from others.  We ARE our own rewards and that’s just how our energy systems work.  The good news is that, much more than extroverts, we get to choose the ingredients that go into our cookies.  Chocolate chips?  Yes!  Sprinkles?  Definitely.  Whole wheat flour?  Ummmm . . . no.

After all, it’s my cookie.