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Roy Baumeister in <em>The Atlantic</em>: Happiness Isn't All That Matters In Life
Science | January 15, 2013

Roy Baumeister in The Atlantic: Happiness Isn't All That Matters In Life

All living creatures pursue happiness, Roy Baumeister says. What makes humans unique, however, is that we also seek out meaning in our lives. In a new article in The Atlantic, the social psychologist and willpower expert unveils his new study about the difference between living a happy life and a meaningful life. Baumeister and his team of researchers asked 400 Americans between the ages of 18 and 78 whether they felt that their lives were meaningful and/or happy. What they found was that there was a big difference between the two. And, as it turns out, there's more to life than being happy.

"Clearly happiness is not all that people seek," the study reads, "and indeed the meaningful but unhappy life is in some ways more admirable than the happy but meaningless one." This is because, as Baumeister and his peers found, happiness is about being a "taker" while meaningfulness in life corresponds with being a "giver." Put another way, happiness involves meeting your own needs while meaning involves meeting the needs of others. "Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others," Baumeister tells The Atlantic. "This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy." Further, the feeling you get from finding meaning in your actions is an enduring quality. While happiness tends to fluctuate from day-to-day, meaning is more long-lasting.

The author of 30 books (including the critically acclaimed Willpower) and the recent recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, Baumeister is a highly requested speaker on personal motivation and has made tremendous contributions to the psychology community. This new study is the latest in over 500 published works he has completed to date. What the study teaches us is that it's important to meet one's needs and desires, but doing things for others may be more beneficial to our long term well being. At very least, putting more time into giving rather than taking expresses our humanity—and shows that living a good life is about more than just being happy.
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