Happiness Versus Meaning? No Thanks!

 Posted by on 11 June 2013 at 1:00 pm  Altruism, Ethics, Happiness
Jun 112013

I disagree with much of this article — There’s More to Life Than Being Happy — but it raises some interesting questions about the relationship between happiness and meaning. Here’s a tidbit:

In a new study, which will be published this year in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Positive Psychology, psychological scientists asked nearly 400 Americans aged 18 to 78 whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy. Examining their self-reported attitudes toward meaning, happiness, and many other variables — like stress levels, spending patterns, and having children — over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a “taker” while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a “giver.”

There’s much more, so I hope that you’ll go read the whole article.

Here’s my basic view: I don’t see that seeking happiness and seeking meaning are two opposing pursuits. That’s because I don’t accept the “taker” versus “giver” ethics used by the psychologists cited. That’s the standard false alternative perpetrated by an ethics of self-sacrifice, whereby a person is obliged to always choose being serving himself (which is necessary but evil) and serving others (which is self-destructive but good). Instead, I advocate and practical the morality of trade — whereby I give as much as I get from others. For me, that’s why I’m able to have a life that’s rich in meaning and happiness. Because I live by the principles and virtues of rational egoism, I don’t need to choose between them.

I discussed this topic in more depth in answering a question about the value of happiness on the 3 March 2013 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the podcast here:

For more details, check out the questions’s archive page.

Note: I published a version of the above commentary in Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter a while back. Subscribe today!

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