Happy Life vs Meaningful Life - Holy Grail

Is it Possible to Have Both a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life? 


Live in the moment is what we always hear. Why? Because if you stay in the present moment you will be happy. This is evidenced in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.  But, does that also contribute to a meaningful life? To have a meaningful life, you'll have to spend time thinking about your past, present, and future. But, can you truly be happy if you are imaging your future or reflecting on your past? Just thinking about those things brings about stress and anxiety. That doesn't make me happy. 


However, in general, the straight answer to this is that yes you can have both a meaningful and a happy life. Meaning and happiness actually feed off of each other. For example, if you feel good most of the time, you generally find your life meaningful and vice versa. But there are also variables that are positively correlated with happiness, but negatively correlation with meaningfulness (also vice versa). 

What contributes to your happiness and what gives your life meaning?

Roy Baumeister, the author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, and a number of his colleagues from Stanford University including Emily Garbinsky and Jennifer L. Aaker explored the key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. You can read about the study here or continue reading below.

Satisfying one’s needs and wants increases happiness but does not contribute to meaningfulness in life. For example, healthy people feel happier, but being healthy has little to do with having a meaningful life. Also, being financially well off enough to purchase luxuries and necessities are important for happiness, but do not directly affect how meaningful life is.

Spending money to get things contributed to happiness, but managing money was linked to meaningfulness.

Thinking about the future or the past results in high levels of meaningfulness, but low levels of happiness. Not surprisingly, the more you worry, stress, and are anxious the lower your happiness will be. But, you also will see life as more meaningful. Being able to express yourself and doing things for others may not contribute to a happy life, but it does a meaningful one. 

Past misfortunes reduce present happiness, but they are linked to higher meaningfulness — perhaps because people cope with them by finding meaning.

Socializing positively correlates with both happiness and meaningfulness. However, for completely different reasons. Happiness is related to the benefits one receives from others, while meaningfulness is quite the opposite. Surprisingly being a 'taker' is linked to higher levels of happiness versus being a 'giver' which is associated with higher levels of meaningfulness. Roy's study suggests that helping others and being a giver actually worked against your happiness! In the case of socializing, it provides the platform for that 'give and take' symbiotic interaction. Therefore, it is easy to see the benefits to both happiness and meaningfulness. 

"Years go by fast that it's ard not to think about the future. You live for the moment, of course, but you've also got to prepare for the future. That's life. That's everybody. Being in the situation you're in now you definitely think about it, but you do live for the moment." - Lebron James

The main take away from all of this is in order to have a happy life you'll have to live in the present and be a 'taker'. In the case of happiness, it is better to receive than to give. In order to have a meaningful life, you'll have to plan for the future and analyze your past. As the saying goes, it is better to give than to receive. Find the right balance and you'll have a meaningful happy life. 

Want more?
Three Secrets to Being Happier
Ten Things You Can Do to be Happier


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