A “Happy” Life vs. a “Meaningful” Life

I was having coffee with a friend this week. He leads an organization.

We were discussing the notion that within many, maybe all, stories that appear successful there is always buried times of trial and tribulation. We get fooled by appearances. The telling of the success stories will smooth over the tougher times and point to the results being celebrated. We agreed that nothing really great seems to get accomplished without some difficulty.

Shortly after that, I ran across an article describing the difference between a “happy” life and a “meaningful” life. Four researchers, Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs, Jennifer Aaker and Emily Garbinsky, will soon be publishing an article in The Journal of Positive Psychology describing the difference.

They say everyone is interested in being “happy.” We describe ourselves as “happy” when we have satisfied our short-term wants and desires.

They further say that while “happy” and “meaningful” can overlap, that accomplishing things in life that are meaningful may well come with sacrifice and hard work. Rather than getting the things that make you “happy,” you may well be giving something that makes life “meaningful.”

“Happy” is in the moment. “Meaningful” considers from where you have come and where you intend to go. It acknowledges the cycles of life. “Meaning” comes with making choices beyond yourself.

I don’t know about you but when I think about the people I respect most in life, they aren’t the ones who are rich, famous and successful. They are the people who have accomplished things despite the challenges and the hardships. They are people who have put in the time and lived life with a persistence that is admirable.

Sounds like thinking about life’s events in terms of the “meaning” created has greater substance than one in pursuit of fulfilling our pleasures through “happiness.”

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PalletOne CEO Howe Wallace
PalletOne Inc.
Company President, Howe Q. Wallace

Since 2005, he has been sharing his thoughts on the organization, leadership, and communication in an online daily note to teammates called Daily with HQ.


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