Why Meaning Matters To People
Everything that happens in life can feel like it has enormous weight and importance. And to varying degrees, it does. But if we can step back and look at the big picture, we see that we live on a little piece of dust in a bigger piece of dust in a massive universe. What’s more, our existence within this space and time has a start point and an endpoint, making our existence fragile.
This might be one of the reasons why humans have always sought meaning. And from a scientific perspective, it certainly seems like meaning is an integral part of being human. The brain itself has evolved to make associations and to create patterns and combinations. We are innate storytellers.
So, while you might feel discouraged or desperate because you can’t find meaning, take courage. Meaning is all around you even if it doesn’t feel that way. Take a look.
It’s Impossible To NOT Find Meaning
If someone were to say, “There’s no meaning in my life”, it’s not that they don’t have meaning in their life. It’s that their current life situation is not aligned with the meaning and purpose they know is true for them.
Let’s look at a simple example. A young boy is excellent in math, and during his teens, he says he wants to become a math teacher. His father wants him to pursue a career in finance instead, and that’s what the son ends up doing.
As the years go by, the son becomes a brilliant financier, but he feels like his life is missing purpose and meaning. Why? Because his current life (and his decisions and circumstances) are not in alignment with the life his soul came to earth to experience.
A life that feels meaningless is a life that has drifted from the most ideal and beautiful path for itself. This article can support you in returning to your true path.
Why Meaning Matters
Apart from the fact that meaning helps us align with our soul’s path, it also makes life much more satisfactory.
Meaning can increase:
- Longevity (Yes, meaning can add years to our life!)
- Life satisfaction
- The love we give and receive
- Our agreeableness, and
- Our joy
Meaning can also help us:
- Be more generous and altruistic
- Care about other people
- Cope with adversity, and
- Reach our goals
How To Live A Life With More Meaning And Purpose
Meaning is abundant, but instead of asking the wide-sweeping question, “What is the meaning of life?”, we might be better off asking, “What meaning can I give to my life?” In other words, what can you pursue that would add meaning to your moments?
There is no psychologist, life coach, or authority who can answer that question for you. The answer lies in you. And the following tips can help you recognize the meaning your soul is searching for.
- Stop looking for meaning
One of the 21st century’s most revolutionary thought leaders on meaning is none other than Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, and psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust.
He believed one of the reasons why he and others survived the hellish concentration camps is because, despite their terrible conditions, they found meaning. And in the years that followed, Frankl researched the topic further and came up with a guideline that seems contradictory at first glance:
Don’t pursue meaning as your end goal.
Frankl teaches that instead of making meaning your primary goal, you should pursue goals and causes that are greater than yourself, and by doing that, meaning follows.
In this paradoxical approach, Frankl is saying that it’s more important to care about what you actually care about, rather than to care about meaning. And as a result, you will experience meaning. This is something that additional research can confirm.
- Identify what you value in life
Do you know, without a shadow of a doubt, what’s important to you and what you value? When we’re not clear about our values, it’s far more difficult to live a life of meaning and purpose.
The reason for this is simple. Our values are like a GPS system. As we “drive” through life, our GPS/values tell us what we can do to stay in integrity and alignment along the way.
In other words, values inform our thoughts and our actions. They help us feel grounded and secure, and without them, we feel wayward and listless. By identifying what YOU value in your life, you can take actions that give meaning.
There are many ways to identify your values. By going through the following prompts, they may start to emerge and become clear:
- Choose one meaningful experience you’ve had. Outline what happened and list the values that you were living in alignment with
- Choose an experience that upset or angered you. Outline what happened and list the values that were being violated at the time
- For one week, take pictures of anything that makes your life meaningful. At the end of the week, review your portfolio and see if you recognize a pattern. What did you photograph the most? Your highlight reel may reflect the people, places or things that give meaning to your moments
- What has happened in your life that you are most proud of? Why?
- What are your best skills? How did you master them? What values do they reflect?
- What are you willing to sacrifice for?
The great philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote, “He who has a why can bear almost any how.” What did he mean by that? Nietzsche was proposing that you will do something difficult and demanding if you have a “why” behind it.
So, the question is: What difficult thing are you willing to do even if it means giving up time, money, energy, or comfort? What ultimate goal is worth giving up certain pleasures?
For some, it’s pursuing higher education. For others, it’s posting something on social media even if it means losing followers or likes. Maybe for others, it’s about building a business or starting a nonprofit organization.
- What are you willing to feel embarrassed about?
In general, children are more willing to try things they might not be good at. This isn’t always the case for adults. We’ve had more experiences with shame, humiliation, and rejection, so we’re not as willing to throw ourselves out there and risk being embarrassed.
And sometimes, that’s a good thing. Sometimes, there are embarrassing things that are not worth doing. But not always. Let’s look at a couple of concrete examples.
Let’s say there’s a woman who used to play the violin as a child. She stopped playing once she went to college to pursue her career. But now she’s in her 30’s, and she wants nothing more than to come home from work, pull out her favorite sheet music and draw her bow across the strings.
The only problem is she’s terrified. She doesn’t want anyone to hear make mistakes. But she’s willing to feel embarrassment in exchange for the opportunity to create beautiful music with her violin again.
- Look outside of yourself for meaning
If you want to live a life with more meaning and purpose, it seems sensible to look at YOUR life. But consider the possibility that we can add meaning to our own lives by giving meaning to others.
On any given day, at any given time, there are many opportunities to build meaning by connecting with others and contributing to their wellbeing. These opportunities don’t have to look grandiose. It can mean going the extra mile to make someone smile. It can mean compromising, rather than fighting over who’s right or wrong.
Consider the possibility that we can live a meaningful life when we give a meaningful life.
You’ve just discovered five powerful ways to start living life with more meaning and purpose:
- Stop looking for meaning
- Identify what you value in life
- Decide what’s worth sacrificing for
- Decide what you’re willing to do, even if it means embarrassing yourself
- Look outside yourself for meaning
Some of these ideas may push you out of your comfort zone, but they will also pull you toward a far more meaningful life – a life you can live with and be proud of. So, go out there and live your adventure. The rewards along the way will make the possible discomfort worth it.