Doing Good Makes Life Meaningful

You’ve probably heard advice like this before: “Put your own needs first,” or “Be sure to make sure you’re getting what you need, then worry about others.”

However, scientific research suggests that when it comes to cultivating a meaningful life, this might not be the best strategy.

Now, I’m not talking about self-abasing neglect or self-deprivation patterns that threaten one’s own well-being. Rather, continually acting on one’s selfish motivations in which one prioritises their own needs before others might not be the best route to a meaningful, fulfilling life.

A wide variety of research suggests the following: putting the needs of others before your own provides people with a sense of meaning and purpose. Researchers, such as Michael Steger and colleagues, have found support for something called the “do-good-feel-good” hypothesis. When people help others, they feel happier; also, happier people tend to be more helpful (Steger, Kashdan, & Oishi, 2008). So, there is a cycle between helping and happiness. However, happiness is different than meaning, but such research is promising.