Why Meaningful Happiness is Better Than Pleasurable Happiness


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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