New research led by social psychologist Roy Baumeister articulates a paradox each of us faces—an internal battle between our desire for happiness and the quest for meaning in our lives. If you’ve ever been a tired-eyed new parent, you understand this fascinating tug-of-war.
Normally when people think about happiness, they imagine pleasure—short-term need fulfillment—while meaning is more long-lasting. I don’t believe we have to forgo one for the other, however. The key is in redefining happiness. I see it as the joy you feel when striving toward your potential. It’s something that moves you toward growth as a parent, student, musician, athlete, lover of nature or whatever.
Happiness and meaning are linked, and if you separate them, you lose both. Trying to do something meaningful without using the advantage of happiness is impossible to sustain. We must find happiness in meaningful things, and use joy to propel us toward more meaningful actions.
You won’t hear this often, but there are a couple ways you can actually buy both happiness and meaning. Instead of purchasing something that creates short-term pleasure, you can put your money into something social and altruistic, like a charity. Try to invest in experiences, not things, and you’ll achieve both pleasure and meaning.