Friday, August 2, 2013

"Meaning is Better Than Happiness"

A Facebook friend shared this article by Emily Esfahani Smith, "Meaning Is Healthier Than Happiness," from The Atlantic (August 1, 2013).

Smith reports research to the effect that meaning in life, and not just happiness, is essential not only for a good life but for physical health. Two representative paragraphs:

"'Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,' the authors of the study wrote. 'If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need.' While being happy is about feeling good, meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way. As Roy Baumeister, one of the researchers, told me, 'Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy.'”...

"It’s important to understand that for many people, a sense of meaning and happiness in life overlap; many people score jointly high (or jointly low) on the happiness and meaning measures in the study. But for many others, there is a dissonance — they feel that they are low on happiness and high on meaning or that their lives are very high in happiness, but low in meaning. This last group, which has the gene expression pattern associated with adversity, formed a whopping 75 percent of study participants. Only one quarter of the study participants had what the researchers call 'eudaimonic predominance' — that is, their sense of meaning outpaced their feelings of happiness.

"This is too bad given the more beneficial gene expression pattern associated with meaningfulness."...

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