The Social Construction of Happiness, Meaning + a Meaningful Life

A little while ago, my fb friend Wendy S. Lea shared an article from “The Atlantic” about the difference between happiness and meaning (“There’s More to Life Than Being Happy“). This article referenced a “recent research” publication (“Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life“)

The latter publication made some rather bold statements — such as:

Meaningfulness may therefore often involve understanding one�s life beyond the here and now, integrating future and past. In contrast, happiness, as a subjective feeling state, exists essentially in the present moment.

Another key difference mentioned is:

Insofar as happiness is about having one�s needs satisfied, interpersonal involvements that benefit the self should improve happiness. In contrast, meaningfulness may come instead from making positive contributions to other people.

Meaning is therefore a socially constructed phenomenon, to wit:

Happiness would mainly be linked to whether the self�s needs are being satisfied. Meaningfulness would be far more broadly related to what activities express and reflect the symbolic self, some of which would involve contributing to the welfare of others (individually or in general) or other culturally valued activities.

I have a hunch that a big part of the reason why happiness is assumed to be a “present state” phenomenon, but meaning is viewed as a phenomenon that occurrs across time, is that socially contructed meaning is not possible in the moment. We must always communicate such meaning to each other, and such communications simply take time.

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