Fostering a Meaningful Life

Finding meaningfulness in one’s life is a topic almost every person thinks about at some point in their life. It’s human nature to want to feel important, useful, and have a life purpose. In this post, we’ll explore ways to create meaning in one’s life along with interesting evidence from psychology and mindfulness sources.

In the study of psychology, there are four “needs” for meaning in life, four patterns of motivation that guide how people try to make sense of their lives.

  1. The first is purpose. We search for a life purpose that allows our present events to connect meaningfully to future events. This can be in the form of goals (ex. obtaining a university degree, getting married and having kids) or in the form of fulfillments (ex. feeling like you’ve reached success, living happily ever after).
  2. We seek a sense of efficacy. We like to feel control over events in our lives and the actions we take towards a meaningful life.
  3. Self-worth is another necessary factor. Finding meaning in life is often accompanied by having intrinsic personal value, or feeling important to society/others in your life.
  4. Lastly, having strong values rooting your moral and ethical decisions for actions helps to foster life purpose.

If all four of the above components are achieved, it is then thought that one has reached the opportunity of finding meaningfulness, leading to positive effects on one’s mental health and an increase in happiness. However if all four are not met, life may seem insufficiently meaningful and may be associated with a sense of “drifting aimlessly” through life and an increase in depression.

Various scholars have theorized that people can find meaning in several places: career, relationships, religious beliefs, volunteer services, achievements, etc. People who deepen their spiritual/religious beliefs, set goals to reach personal achievements, open themselves up to create genuine relationships, and dedicate service to others tend to report feelings of greater well being, are more physically active, have greater marital satisfaction, and overall life satisfaction.

Meaningfulness is not the same as happiness.

You can have meaningfulness without happiness, but you cannot have happiness without meaningfulness. If this seems confusing, take adversity as an example. When we experience adversity (a negative situation) we ask ourselves “why did this happen?”. Finding a positive in a negative situation is like finding the silver lining, making sense of it. Perhaps we tell ourselves that “Everything happens for a reason” or “It was God’s will or judgment”. However you come to terms with it, you eventually begin to accept the situation. In this way, the situation doesn’t necessarily make you happy, but you’ve created meaning in something that you couldn’t control. Giving meaning to something is especially important during times of misfortune. It reduces distress, rebuilds your sense of mastery or control, bolsters your self-worth, and allows you to find purpose in it.

Some people find meaning in difficult times by writing or journalling about it. By actually writing your thoughts down, you make your thoughts visible, and that transforms what was once intangible in your mind to now a physical, tangible thing. Using journalling as a way to release negative energy held in your body may improve the function of your immune system, reduce the chances of illness, and increase enzyme functioning! Writing allows you to find a positive meaning of a situation, making sense of it. Initially when beginning to write, it may bring up negative emotions, however a few days to weeks later, you might begin to feel less negative towards it and possibly look at it from a more positive perspective.

If you’re looking to give meaning to your life or something in your life, consider adapting a few of the practices above. You might have to revise your goals, standards and priorities from time to time to boost your life happiness and satisfaction, and that’s okay! It’s all part of our life journey.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Always,

Paula

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