The other week we looked at the results of one study which suggested receiving from others makes us happy while giving to others provides us a sense of meaningfulness, and they talked about these things as though they were mutually exclusive. The author of this study did say that if you consider it a meaningful, good thing to give to others then this will make you feel happy. However, their study factored out the effects of meaningfulness and happiness on each other which led to their conclusion that takers are happier people and givers are people who have more meaning in their lives.
If you’re like me you’re wondering what the point is in separating meaning and happiness since for most people they are so obviously linked. It’s what suicidal people are talking about when they say, “I have nothing to live for.” Over many years I’ve worked with scores of depressed people whose depression is maintained largely because they have nothing they consider meaningful in their lives. So what was this research actually looking at?
Perhaps they were differentiating between hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Hedonic well-being is based on the idea that more pleasure and less pain leads to happiness (having fun with friends, eating a great dinner). Eudaimonic well-being is based on the idea that life purpose, challenge, and growth leads to happiness (volunteering at an animal shelter, spending your career in a helping profession). Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill think this distinction is worth understanding. Their study suggests that these two types of happiness affect us differently on a molecular level. They found that people with high hedonic well-being are more likely to have a chronic inflammatory response which will eventually suppress immune function. Earlier studies have also found that eudaimonic well-being is associated with good health (better sleep, less reactivity to stress, higher good cholesterol, less insulin resistance).
There you have it. Give to others or be all swollen and generally unhealthy. The choice is yours!