To Be Fully Human, Strive For Meaning Over Happiness

If you look around at today’s culture, you get a pretty strong message about happiness. Mainly, that everyone should have it or be striving for it. And while happiness is an important factor in our overall well-being, research is revealing another key player: meaning.

Lessons From The Holocaust

This research isn’t new. It began with the eminent psychologist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl in 1945. Business Insider reprinted an article from The Atlantic that offered Frankl’s insights into the value of meaning in life.

In 1946, Frankl published his book Man’s Search For Meaning in which he shared his experiences as therapist in the concentration camp. Frankl concluded that the difference between those who survived and those who didn’t came down to finding a meaning for living—even is those horrendous circumstances.

Frankl himself believed that counseling other inmates created meaning in his life and that this is what allowed him to survive until he was liberated. He wasn’t happy, but he had a reason to live each day.

Understanding the Differences

A recent article in Scientific American discussed the differences that many of today’s studies are showing between happiness and meaningfulness.

“It seems that happiness has more to do with having your needs satisfied, getting what you want, and feeling good, whereas meaning is more related to uniquely human activities such as developing a personal identity, expressing the self, and consciously integrating one’s past, present, and future experiences,” says the article.

Writing in Psychology Today, social psychologist Bella DePaulo shares specific life circumstances that test subjects said made for a meaningful but not happy life and vice versa. For example, feeling that life is easy made for a happy but less meaningful life; stress, challenges, and sacrificing for others created meaning but not necessarily happiness.

What It Means For Our Own Lives

The thing to remember, say psychologists, is that both happiness and meaningfulness are important to our overall quality of life. However, striving for meaning is what makes us truly human.

As Victor Frankl states, “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself — be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself — by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he is.”

If you believe you have everything you want but somehow don’t feel fully happy, it may be time to start a quest for meaning.

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