Happiness and Meaning

Do happiness and meaningfulness always go together?  You might consider it meaningful when you rush your friend to the vet with her dying cat to have him put down but the experience doesn’t exactly make you happy.  You might feel happy when you settle in to watch the season premiere of Sherlock but probably won’t count it as a meaningful experience.  But we all know that happiness and meaningfulness can coexist because we often do something we consider meaningful – help a stranger change their flat tire, for example – and feel happy about it.  So what’s the difference?

One study conducted by Baumeister at Florida State University surveyed almost 400 adults to figure out the relationship between happiness and meaningfulness.  Here is one of their most interesting findings:

Happiness comes from what others give to you; meaningfulness comes from giving to others.

But what about all those times you’ve given to someone else and felt happy about it?  Baumeister would argue that you’ve assigned meaning to that act of giving, and that if you factor out the importance of meaningfulness, people who receive more are happier than people who give more.

Hm.  Takers are happier than givers?  Let’s parse this out further next week…