Meaningfulness vs. Happiness

Source: Aeon, date indeterminate

five sets of major differences between happiness and meaningfulness, five areas where different versions of the good life parted company.

  1. The first had to do with getting what you want and need. Not surprisingly, satisfaction of desires was a reliable source of happiness. But it had nothing — maybe even less than nothing ­— to add to a sense of meaning. People are happier to the extent that they find their lives easy rather than difficult.
  2. The second set of differences involved time frame. Meaning and happiness are apparently experienced quite differently in time. Happiness is about the present; meaning is about the future, or, more precisely, about linking past, present and future. … If you want to maximise your happiness, it looks like good advice to focus on the present, especially if your needs are being satisfied. Meaning, on the other hand, seems to come from assembling past, present and future into some kind of coherent story.
  3. Social life was the locus of our third set of differences. As you might expect, connections to other people turned out to be important both for meaning and for happiness. … the particular character of one’s social connections that determined which state they helped to bring about. Simply put, meaningfulness comes from contributing to other people, whereas happiness comes from what they contribute to you.  …The depth of social ties can also make a difference in how social life contributes to happiness and meaning. Spending time with friends was linked to higher happiness but it was irrelevant to meaning.  … By comparison, spending more time with loved ones was linked to higher meaning and was irrelevant to happiness.
  4. A fourth category of differences had to do with struggles, problems, stresses and the like. In general, these went with lower happiness and higher meaningfulness. … Having lots of good things happen turned out to be helpful for both meaning and happiness.
  5. The final category of differences had to do with the self and personal identity. Activities that express the self are an important source of meaning but are mostly irrelevant to happiness. … If happiness is about getting what you want, it appears that meaningfulness is about doing things that express yourself.

you will find life meaningful to the extent that you have something that addresses each of these four needs.

  1. The first need is, indeed, for purpose. Frankl was right: without purpose, life lacks meaning. A purpose is a future event or state that lends structure to the present, thus linking different times into a single story.Purposes can be sorted into two broad categories. One might strive toward
    1. a particular goal (to win a championship, become vice president or raise healthy children)
      Life goals come from three sources, so in a sense every human life has three basic sources of purpose.  One is nature. … The second source of purpose is culture. Culture tells you what is valuable and important. … the third source of goals: your own choices.
    2. a condition of fulfilment (happiness, spiritual salvation, financial security, wisdom).
  2. The second need for meaning is value. This means having a basis for knowing what is right and wrong, good and bad. …. when it comes to making life meaningful, people need to find values that cast their lives in positive ways, justifying who they are and what they do. 
  3. The third need is for efficacy. It’s not very satisfying to have goals and values if you can’t do anything about them. People like to feel that they can make a difference. Their values have to find expression in their life and work.
  4. The last need is for self-worth. People with meaningful lives typically have some basis for thinking that they are good people, maybe even a little better than certain other people. At a minimum, people want to believe that they are better than they might have been had they chosen or behaved or performed badly. They have earned some degree of respect.

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