Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life

Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen D. Vohs, Jennifer L. Aaker, Emily N. Garbinsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

500 Scopus citations


Being happy and finding life meaningful overlap, but there are important differences. A large survey revealed multiple differing predictors of happiness (controlling for meaning) and meaningfulness (controlling for happiness). Satisfying one's needs and wants increased happiness but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness. Happiness was largely present oriented, whereas meaningfulness involves integrating past, present, and future. For example, thinking about future and past was associated with high meaningfulness but low happiness. Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness. Concerns with personal identity and expressing the self contributed to meaning but not happiness. We offer brief composite sketches of the unhappy but meaningful life and of the happy but meaningless life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-516
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Positive Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2013


  • happiness
  • meaning
  • relationships
  • satisfaction with life
  • self


Dive into the research topics of 'Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this