Do you want a happy life or a meaningful life?
Happiness is about pleasure and satisfaction. It is a here-and-now thing, a feeling of excitement or contentment that can fade within the hour. Play a fun game, eat delicious food, take a hot bath, attend a great concert, give and receive affection. Happiness is a celebration of life, moment by moment.
Meaning is about making a difference. It is rooted in your values and aspirations. It links your past struggles, your current efforts, and your hopes for a better future. Meaning makes sense of all your striving and caring. Meaning makes it all worth it.
A happy moment may not be very meaningful. That ice cream tastes delicious, but the pleasure doesn’t survive the day.
A meaningful moment may not be very happy. Caring for the sick may deepen your bond or strengthen your resolve to live fully, but it may be very sad, too.
Of course, you want both — and you can have both, at least some of the time.
The essential point is not to confuse the two.
If your habit is to strive for meaning, perhaps at the sacrifice of pleasure, consider: Could you have more fun? Would it help to lighten up, take a break, indulge yourself in a “sinful pleasure”, or laugh about how earnest you are?
If you lean towards indulging your pleasures, consider: Are you fulfilled? Are you working towards worthwhile goals, contributing to others, or leaving a legacy that makes you proud?
Consider: Happiness + Meaning = Joy
Rollo May, a humanistic psychologist, said, “Joy, rather than happiness, is the goal of life, for joy is the emotion which accompanies our fulfilling our natures as human beings. It is based on the experience of one’s identity as a being of worth and dignity.”