24/10/2013 06:53 BST | Updated 23/12/2013 05:12 GMT

Can Psychologists Predict Whether Just-Christened George Is Heading for a Happy or a Meaningful Life?

Parents, friends, relatives and God Parents gather for a christening - which like a wedding and other religious rituals is associated not just with happiness, but also imbued with meaning.

But are a happy life and a meaningful life the same thing? Can pursuing one lead to less of the other? The choice of God Parents to a future Monarch might reveal the parents thinking on the pursuit of happiness or meaning, in terms of future guidance for their child.

This is a question which has also just been investigated by a large psychology study entitled 'Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life'; about to be published in the 'Journal of Positive Psychology'.

The researchers let participants define the happy, or meaningful life. Happiness appeared linked to having needs and desires satisfied, and leading an existence largely free from unpleasant events.

A meaningful life, in contrast, appeared linked to some over-arching purpose. Often it meant sacrifice and being devoted more to improving the welfare of others, rather than yourself.

The authors of the new study, Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs, Jennifer Aaker and Emily Garbinsky, point out it is possible to have a meaningful but unhappy life (e.g. being an oppressed political activist). Attaining the 'holy grail' of the happy and meaningful life appeared possible, from the findings of this study, but not as straightforward as previously might have been thought.

Happiness flows from benefits you receive from others. Meaningfulness, instead, is associated with the benefits that others receive from you.

This new psychology research finds that while being happy and finding life meaningful overlap, there are important differences. A national sample of 397 adults were surveyed; results revealed that satisfying one's needs and wants increased happiness, but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness.

Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went more with being a giver rather than a taker. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to more meaningfulness, yet lower happiness.

It might come as no surprise that the results reveal finding one's life to be relatively easy was linked to more happiness. But considering life a struggle was positively related with meaningfulness. Some people endure highly meaningful yet not very pleasant lives, perhaps because their meaningful activities require strenuous and unpleasant effort.

The authors, from Florida State University, University of Minnesota and Stanford University, conclude finding one's life easy or difficult is a matter of happiness, but not of meaning.

Not having enough money reduced both meaningfulness and happiness, but the effect was considerably larger on happiness than meaningfulness. Monetary scarcity was 20 times more detrimental to happiness than to meaning. Having sufficient money to purchase objects of desire (both necessities and luxuries) was important for happiness, but made little impact on whether life was meaningful.

The more time people devoted to thinking about the past and future, the more meaningful their lives were - and the less happy. Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life. Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future, and is much more about living for the present.

The more people thought only about the present, the happier they were.

Spending time with friends was positively related to happiness. Time spent with loved people was significantly linked with meaning, but surprisingly irrelevant to happiness, possibly because loved ones can be difficult at times. People with more meaningful lives also agreed that 'relationships are more important than achievements'; this sentiment was unrelated to happiness.