According to a recent study, people who are happy but don’t have a solid sense of meaning in their lives and those who endure chronic adversity have similar gene expression.

After so many studies claiming that happiness is good for everything from job performance to health, the results of this study are surprising a lot of people.

However, don’t toss your goals for a happy life out the window just yet.

What the study really shows.

Short and simple:

  • Without a sense of meaning, your gene expression will mimic the expression of someone who has been dealing with chronic adversity even if you experience happiness.
  • If you have a strong sense of meaning in your life, regardless of high or low levels of happiness, you have a buffer against the ill-effects of adversity

Is being happy bad? It is if it’s the result of narcissistic behavior that happens at the expense of others. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with being happy. But being happy without also having meaning doesn’t carry with it the positive effects we previously thought it did.

For the most part, people who have a sense of meaning in their lives also experience happiness. You can have a high level of meaning and a high level of happiness.

All of the studies that show a correlation between happiness and improvements in health and performance aren’t wrong. It’s just that the happiness may be more of a side-effect than the actual cause.

When it comes to your health, meaning matters more.

The lower the level of meaning you feel in life, the more markers for chronic inflammation and stress you’ll have, regardless of your level of happiness.

Those markers are also associated with a greater risk for heart disease, metabolic syndromes such as type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

Instead of continuously working to improve your happiness levels, try adding more meaning to your life. Stay tuned for a blog about how to experience more meaning.


Fredrickson, B. L., Grewen, K. M., Coffey, K. A., Algoe, S. B., Firestine, A. M., Arevalo, J. M., … & Cole, S. W. (2013). A functional genomic perspective on human well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(33), 13684-13689. Retrieved from: