Are happiness and fulfillment mutually exclusive?

I stumbled across this fascinating article by Emily Esfahani Smith: There’s more to life than being happy

In it she talks to Roy Baumeister who’s research seems to indicate that the pursuit of meaning is what makes us all uniquely human. Discarding our selfish interests in pursuit of service to someone or something larger than ourselves, and “giving” rather than “taking”, we  acknowledge that that there is more to a good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.

Interestingly some of the research goes as far as to say that, in order to lead a meaningful life one must contemplate the future and the past. This in turn can actually reduce your happiness. Presumably because one contemplates negative so well as positive events. In contrast the happiest people, live for the moment and think almost exclusively about the present.

I come from the world of double blind experiments and placebos, and am always cautious about research that extrapolates conclusions from what may well be a biased and very small sample group. Surveys are notoriously unreliable and cultural differences are always interesting to add to the mix. Take for example the German word “Schadenfreude” – yes the joy of laughing at others misfortune. Surely a culture that has a word for such a thing must have different way of looking at happiness. 

Emily goes on to quote Kathleen Vohs, who explains that “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,”. Ah, now that sounds like people leading meaningful lives can also be happy!

Ah, to oversimplify and generalize is so much fun. What if we could do both! Shoot for the moon and be meaningfully happy. After all if meaning can derive happiness, why not commit meaningful acts that you enjoy. I personally like being happy and I like helping others, does that make me odd? If so, I’ll get over it 🙂 




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