As someone why generally gets a little embarrassed receiving presents at Christmas, yet loves to give them, I was interested to read Baumeister et al.’s recent article ‘Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life’, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.
Baumeister and colleagues conducted an online survey with 397 adults and a follow-up study involving 124 students. The researchers were interested in the participants’ happiness levels as well as their feelings of having a meaningful life. Each participant was asked to identify those factors that made them happy and those that made their life more meaningful.
Although happiness and meaningfulness tended to go together, (i.e. participants who recorded their lives as more meaningful were also happier) there were some factors that were associated with happiness but not meaningfulness and vice-versa. For example, participants who rated their lives as easier, who had good health, enough money to buy what they wanted and had low levels of stress and worry, rated themselves as happier. However, these same factors were unrelated to meaningfulness or even showed a relationship in the opposite direction. Participants who described their lives as having more meaning tended to report more negative events in their lives and more stress, anxiety and worry.
As part of the survey, people were asked to rate the extent to which they were ‘givers’ or ‘takers’. The results were illuminating. As you might expect, there was a positive relationship between ‘taking’ (e.g. receiving gifts) and happiness, but a negative relationship with feelings of meaningfulness. Giving, on the other hand, was positively related to meaningfulness. The conclusion, therefore, was that although takers might be happier than givers, givers appear to enjoy more meaningful lives.