If someone were to tell you that being happy is not the most important thing in life, how would you react? You probably wouldn’t believe it. After all, most of us have this idea that pursuing happiness is what matters most in life. Even the Declaration of Independence mentions the pursuit of happiness as an “unalienable right”. However, according to a study from the Journal of Positive Psychology, there is a difference between a meaningful life and a happy life. Surprisingly or not, the former might be the better option. Let’s explore together why finding meaning in life is more important that finding happiness.
Finding Meaning in Life is More Important Than Being Happy
The study we referenced above looked at almost 400 people between the ages of 18 and 78. It asked them if they considered their lives to be meaningful and/or happy. According to the results, while there are similarities between a meaningful life and a happy one, the two are fundamentally different in nature. Consequently, in order to be happy, you have to be a “taker”. In order to have meaning in your life, you should be a “giver”.
So what is happiness all about? Well, according to the authors of this study, you feel happy when you satisfy your needs and desires. You are happy when you avoid difficult situations, everything goes well for you, you feel good physically, you think life is easy, you feel no stress, and you can get whatever you want. We can also interpret this as selfish or shallow. Especially since the lack of money seems to affect happiness much more than it affects meaning. Bottom line, getting what you want makes you happy.
On the other hand, having a meaningful life depends more on you giving to others and feeling good about it. If you are looking for meaning in life, you are more likely to help people who need you. This is specifically true of humans. That is because the animal instinct encourages everybody to look out for themselves and satisfy certain needs in order to be happy.
People who focus on finding meaning in life can sometimes make the difficult choice of giving up something for themselves. Even though that thing would make them happy, they want to help other people more. However, these people also tend to suffer from stress and anxiety. That’s because they invest a lot of time and energy and make a lot of sacrifices. For instance, just to give you a more concrete example, giving birth and raising children is seen as a self-sacrifice. However, it is something that gives life meaning. Even if parents feel they have a meaningful life, they don’t necessarily feel happy while taking care of their children.
Perhaps the most important thing you should remember from this study is that happiness is fleeting. It is all about the present moment, and then it fades away. On the other hand, meaning is something that lasts. If you think about the past or the future, you probably won’t be happy, but you will have a more meaningful life. Consequently, having bad things happen to you clearly decreases happiness, but increases meaning. People who have a meaningful life and a purpose are generally more satisfied with their life than people who don’t have this, even if they are not as happy.
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