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old post: Meaning and happiness



From early 2013.

A quick post from the SPSP Convention in New Orleans. Are you happy? Do you see a purpose in your life? While in general people who see more purpose in their lives are more happy, the two are not the same. A symposium this morning drew out some of the differences.
Shigehiro Oishi focused on nation level comparisons. Those who live in wealthier countries tend to be happier. But...they also tend to find less meaning in their lives! In Sierra Leone, for instance, nearly everyone reports their lives to be meaningful, but they have little money. And happiness isn't exactly there in plenty. This is all correlational, so take it with the usual grains of salt. Wealthier nations tended to be lower in religiosity, and via this connection they tended to report less meaning in life. Taking it one step further, they also had higher suicide rates. Once religiosity is controlled, the relation of income to meaning and suicide goes away.
Kathleen Vohs reported on surveys of a community sample. She asked people about their lives three times over a month. She looked at meaning in life at time two after controlling for happiness at time one and at happiness at time two after controlling for meaning in life at time one. What is related to the experience of meaning in life that is not about happiness? What is related to the experience of happiness that is not about meaning in life? Happiness went with getting what you want, reporting that you are a "taker", receiving benefits from others, being less involved in deep thought, and a focus on short term rewards. It was not related with whether one perceives oneself as wise. In contrast, seeing meaning in life went with getting involved, seeing oneself as a giver, having given benefits to others, being in deep thought more, long term perspectives, and perceiving oneself as wise. Engaging in activities (e.g., commuting, working) that you see as reflecting who you are seems related to experiencing meaning, but not so much to happiness.
And with that, back to the conference.

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