What does happiness mean to you? Often times people think of happiness in two different ways.
The common view of happiness is hedonic well-being – which is the belief that happiness is based on the amount of joyful and pleasurable experiences you have. This is the kind of happiness you get from eating a delicious piece of cake, or winning the lottery, or having sex. It’s basically “feeling good.”
The other view of happiness is eudaimonic well-being – which is the belief that happiness is based on having a sense of purpose and meaning in life. This is the kind of happiness you get from following your passion, helping others, contributing to society, and identifying yourself as part of a “bigger picture.”
A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that individuals who scored high on meaningful happiness (or “eduaimonic well-being”) showed healthier gene expression than those who only scored high on pleasurable happiness (or “hedonic well-being”).
The implication of this study is that meaningful happiness can improve our well-being on both a psychological and biological level. Why is this?
According to psychologists Barbara Frederickson and Steven Cole, feelings of loneliness, grief, and loss can often activate a stress response in our genes. They put out bodies into an unhealthy state where we feel like our lives are being physically threatened.
However, having a sense of meaning and purpose in your life can often give you a sense of connectedness and belonging, especially with other people, which counteracts this “threat mode” response.
The best ways to create a more meaningful life include:
- Following your passions and having a sense of direction.
- Expressing yourself creatively through art, music, photography or writing.
- Understanding that you have an influence on people and society as a whole.
- Actively helping others and doing kind deeds (one of the easiest ways to connect to a “higher purpose“).
- Finding knowledge and wisdom from your negative experiences and adversity.
- Keeping long-term relationships with family, loved ones, friends, and coworkers.
- Focusing on “growth” in your life instead of “results.”
Finding meaning in your life is all about identifying the role you play in a “bigger picture” – whatever you define that to be: your relationships, career, society, nature, God, or anything outside of just your own scope of experiences.
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