There is debate in the world of research on whether pursuing a happy life or a meaningful life will lead to overall better well-being. It might seem obvious that we all want to live well and to be satisfied with our lives, but how do we get there in the long-term?
Happiness might seem like the obvious choice, and researchers have identified that one of the biggest differences between a life pursuing happiness and a life pursuing meaningfulness is that happiness-driven lives focus on living in the present and satisfying wants or needs (such as things like focus on wealth, health, and things that give us direct pleasure). Meaningful lives, on the other hand, are associated with more stress and challenges, and focus on the present, past, and future, all at once.
However, meaningful-driven lives are associated with more happiness. Although happiness has also been found to be associated with more meaningfulness. It probably sounds like we’re going in circles – because we are! Overall, the research points to meaningful-driven lives as a better predictor of overall well-being. While meaningful-driven lives might look more difficult, in contrast to pursuing pleasure, they actually make us happier in the long-term.
What does this mean? Do what you love, love what you do, and whether you find meaning in what you directly do, or you find that what you do helps you find meaning outside of what you do – keep doing it! When we feel like our lives have purpose or meaning, we’re happier, more motivated, and feel better about ourselves, which comes with a whole lot of psychological and physical health benefits. It can be tempting to focus on goals that bring us direct and immediate happiness, but those long-term goals (like college) that seem too hard or too far away (but give you meaning) are worth it!