A recent Gallup polls says Americans are happier today than they have been in the last four years. That may be small consolation given the largest economic crisis in two generations, which began about four years ago. But a forthcoming study in the Journal of Positive Psychology gives the Gallup poll an important context. In asking 400 Americans whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy, researchers behind the study have found places where meaning and happiness overlap as well as places where they diverge. “Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a ‘taker’ while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a ‘giver.'”
What’s the Big Idea?
What makes living a happy life distinct from one filled with meaning may also be what separates human life from animal life. Happiness, say psychologists, is defined by drive reduction. In other words, when a desire such as hunger is satisfied, happiness increases. “Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others,” explained Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study. “In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants.”