The happiness meaning see-saw



It’s Friday! Always a good reason to be happy!

But take a moment to consider:

  1. To what extent do you have happiness and meaning in your life?
  2. What’s the balance between the two?

Here’s the reason for the questions.  A 2013 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Barbara Fredrickson and Steve Cole found that people who are happy but lack meaning in their lives show the same gene expression patterns as those who are struggling with prolonged adversity – their bodies are preparing to fight off bacterial infections.

The problem with this is that if it continues in a prolonged state, it can increase the risks of major illnesses like cancer and heart disease, because the body is in a constant state of inflammation.

Frederickson said that the problem isn’t with being happy but that meaningfulness needs to  outweigh happiness. Otherwise we risk affecting our immune systems in detrimental ways.

And sadly, this is a fairly common state. People with high happiness scores and low meaningfulness scores formed 75% of the study’s participants. And only 25% actually had more meaning in their lives than happiness.

Clearly the optimal state we should aim for is a balance between the two. Without enough meaning in our lives, we can become ill and be lacking in purpose and direction. Without enough happiness, however, we’ll become, well, unhappy. And who wants that?

For many people, happiness is more common than meaning and so it’s worth looking at how you can add more meaning to your life to create more overall wellbeing for yourself.


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