With all the buzz around being happy these days (1,000 happiness-related books were released on Amazon in the last three months alone!) it’s no stretch to think it must be healthy to pursue happiness. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to be case. This article from The Atlantic makes a distinction between happiness, associated with “taking” behavior, and meaning, centered around selfless behavior — the latter having more to do with good health.
Even physiologically, people who are happy without a sense of meaning have different gene expressions than those who have a sense of meaning without necessarily being happy. “Empty” positive emotions can even affect your immune system in similar ways to adverse conditions like loneliness or grieving. Engaging in meaningful activities, on the other hand, decreases these adversity-related inflammatory responses. So while it might feel good to get what we want, we really “need meaning to thrive.”