The Meaningful Life Is a Road Worth Traveling
Article by Clifton B. Parker
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Research suggests that meaningfulness and happiness are distinctly different pursuits. While they are not mutually exclusive, they often arise out of contrasting desires. The good news is that the five keys to meaningfulness identified in this research often arise out of values that are in line with following Jesus: giving to others; forming deep relationships; linking the past, present, and future; enduring hard times by focusing on the end goal; and developing a strong and valued sense of self. Pastors can use sermons to contrast happiness and meaningful pursuits and invite listeners to reflect on what they are pursuing with their lives.

“Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker.”

-Jennifer Aaker

What to Consider

  • What do you believe is the difference between happiness and meaningfulness?
  • What are significant, meaningful relationships in your life? What makes these relationships meaningful?
  • Have you ever experienced a stressful yet meaningful time in your life? What allowed this time to be meaningful?
  • Have there ever been situations in your life that were both meaningful and happy? What made this situation meaningful? What made this situation filled with happiness?

How to Go Deeper

  • Invite several people to read Hebrews 11, with each person reading a section on a different faithful person in the passage. Add faithful Christians throughout history all the way to the present day. These might include Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Catherine and William Booth, Martin Luther King Jr., and somebody from your local congregation. Invite the congregation to see themselves in this long trajectory of meaningful lives in service of God.
  • Contrast the meaningful life of Joseph with the pursuit of happiness of some of his older brothers. (Genesis 37-50). How do their lives illustrate the different pursuits of happiness and meaningfulness? Invite listeners to see their story inside the story of Joseph, enduring through the hard times with a sense of meaning. Note how Joseph’s pursuit of the meaningful life ultimately led him to happiness.
  • Use the life of Paul to illustrate the difference between happiness and meaningfulness. 2 Timothy 2:8-13 and Philippians 3:7-14, are two Scriptures that share what gave Paul meaning in life. Invite listeners to see, with Paul, their losses in light of the “surpassing value of knowing Christ” (Phil 3:8, NRSV).

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.


  1. JarrodCraw May 25, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    This is important research considering how narcissistic our culture has become. Teaching people how to ‘live like Jesus’ with scientific support ought to encourage others to be less self-centered in order to find meaningfulness/happiness. So many people go to the wrong solution(s). Interesting to see the points this article makes.

  2. aidenkang May 30, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    The difference b/w meaningfulness & happiness is the fact that happiness is based on external circumstances; whereas, meaningfulness is not.

  3. aidenkang May 30, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Suffering produces perseverance (Romans 5:3) – I see the truth of this statement in hindsight, giving me insight into the fact that “stressful” moments can be meaningful.

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