Your pursuit of happiness may be causing more harm than good. Many people who focus on being happy have only fleeting moments of joy, and they often have low resilience.
People who pursue meaning, however, have stronger psychological health and higher resilience.
Several studies over the past few years have found weak associations between happiness and adaptive functioning. Other research highlights the temporary benefits of happiness versus long-term gains from meaning.
One researcher compared students who did things that made their life meaningful with those who focused on their happiness. Initially, the ” happy” group got happier, and the “meaningful” group felt they had more meaning. But three months later, the happy feelings of the “happy” group faded while the students who had pursued meaning said they felt more “enriched,” “inspired,” and “part of something greater than myself.” They also reported fewer negative moods.
Viktor Frankl reached the same conclusions after being imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he writes that prisoners who lost meaning died more quickly than those who still had meaning despite their hardships.
Emily Esfahani Smith explains in her 2017 book, The Power of Meaning, that having a meaningful life is different from being happy. She explains that “the happy life is an easy life, one in which we feel good much of the time and experience little stress or worry.” However, “the pursuit of happiness was linked to selfish behavior — being a taker rather than a giver.”
Here are some things you can do if you’re looking for more meaning in your life:
Join a group
One of the quickest ways to add meaning to your life is to be active in a group. Not part of a group? Join one. No groups to join? Start one.
Tell your story
Write your story. Where do you come from, who influenced you growing up, and what are your dreams and aspirations? Do you have a redemption story from a time when you experienced an adverse event followed by a positive development?
Write your obituary
How do you want people to remember you when you die? Are you that person right now? If not, what do you need to change to be that person?
Helping other people is one of the best ways to bring meaning into your life. Look for ways you can give your time and energy to a good cause, a friend, or a family member.
Find your passion
Being passionate about something other than your work can provide significant meaning in your life. What brings you joy and excitement? Make time for it.
Many people find deep meaning in their religious beliefs. If you are devout, strengthen your faith and participate in religious gatherings.
What do you think about the difference between meaning and happiness? How do you find meaning?