Is it possible that finding purpose is the route to genuine happiness?
In our writings for Greater Good, we have discussed the distinctions between living a happy life and living a meaningful life, and have discovered that the two are strongly linked. Those who pursue meaningful activities are more likely to have long-term happiness and life satisfaction, even if they experience some pain, sorrow, or stress along the road.
Those who pursue pleasure alone are more likely to experience short-term happiness and satisfaction. In reality, chasing pleasure directly may have the opposite effect, while pursuing meaning may have a positive impact on our health and well-being.
Now, in a new book, the authors attempt to define what it means to live a life that is important to them. When writing The Power of Meaning, journalist Emily Esfahani Smith draws on the writings of great writers and philosophers—Emerson, Buddha, and Victor Frankl, among others—as well as interviews with everyday people who are seeking to increase meaning in their lives, in an attempt to distill what is central in this pursuit. The Power of Meaning is available now from Amazon.
Despite the fact that the book is very loosely based on research, it is a fascinating read on how individuals discover meaning in their lives via the “four pillars” of meaning.
1. A sense of belonging.
Our sense of belonging to a community is enhanced when we are understood, acknowledged and validated by our friends, family members, partners, coworkers, and even complete strangers. Many individuals consider their relationships to be the most important aspect of their lives, according to the findings of various studies, as well as end-of-life discussions. This is true even when the relationships are tough or strained.
2. The reason for being.
When we have long-term objectives in life that are consistent with our beliefs and benefit the greater good, we are more likely to infuse meaning into our daily actions. The findings of Adam Grant’s research show that people who work in fields that are primarily concerned with helping others—such as teachers, surgeons, clergy, and therapists—tend to rate their jobs as more meaningful, and that people who imbue their work with a sense of purpose are more committed to their jobs. In addition, having a sense of purpose has been linked to a variety of beneficial outcomes, such as greater learning for children in school and improved health.
3. The art of storytelling.
The process of attempting to weave together especially important events from our life into a cohesive narrative that defines our identity may be helpful when seeking meaning. People who view their life as meaningful often have redemptive tales about how they overcome adversity, and they place a strong emphasis on development, connection with others, and personal action in their descriptions of themselves.
Laura Kray and colleagues discovered that asking individuals to contemplate routes they did not pursue in life and the implications of those decisions helped them to get a deeper understanding of their experiences.
4. The concept of transcendence.
We may reduce our self-focus by engaging in more generous and helpful conduct after having an experience that fills us with awe or amazement. According to Smith, such experiences are those in which “we believe we have risen beyond the daily world to encounter a greater reality.” Despite the fact that it may seem contradictory in certain respects, she believes that lowering our own feeling of self-importance may help us find purpose in our lives.
According to Smith, his book is prescriptive, providing methods that may help you find more purpose in your own life and make it more meaningful. To enhance your feeling of belonging, you may want to try recognizing colleagues, participating in personal conversations, and giving assistance to others when they are in need at work. These “high-quality relationships” will help you feel more at home in your workplace. As an alternative, you could consider redefining the duties associated with your work to better align with your motivations, skills, and interests, as suggested by organizational researcher Jane Dutton and colleagues.
Alternatively, if you are feeling stuck, you may want to devote some time to developing a life narrative—a comprehensive understanding of the events that shaped you into the person you are today—that includes a redemptive storyline. This may be accomplished through expressive writing practice or working with a counselor. Alternatively, you may want to discover methods to feel more awe in your life, such as spending time in nature, gazing at the sky, seeing meaningful works of art, or reflecting about heroic people.
Despite the fact that her work is more focused on tales and philosophy than on research, Smith does at the very least provide fresh ideas in an area that was previously considered to be mainly the domain of religious and spiritual traditions. In her book, she believes that seeking meaning may be therapeutic, not just for those of us who are suffering from mild existential malaise, but also for people who have experienced tragedy or are confronting their own death.
A call to realize our position in the world—perhaps most crucially through cultivating our relationships and helping others—so that we may add greater purpose to our lives is the message of her book.
“Each of us has a circle of people—in our homes, in our communities, and at work—whose lives we can make better,” she writes. “We all have individuals in our lives who we can make better.” “That’s a legacy that anybody can leave behind,” says the author.
We may ponder the significance of our existence at some point throughout our stay on Earth.
Consider yourself fortunate in that you are not alone in having this idea. Numerous anecdotal reports indicate that individuals want to live lives that are more important than their current circumstances.
Living a meaningful life and determining what is significant are two issues that have been debated for thousands of years (e.g., Marcus Aurelius wrestled with this question when he was Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 AD).
The fact that you are reading this essay indicates that you are interested in having a meaningful life. What we mean by’meaningful’ and if there are any advantages to aiming for this kind of way of life may be unclear to you at this point. Describe a few practical steps that you may take to live a life that matters.
In this section, we will review the psychological research that has been conducted to far to answer this issue and give you with a starting point for your investigation.
One of life’s most important questions is how to find meaning in one’s life.
The search for meaning in one’s life has its origins in two different fields: philosophy and psychology.
Understanding the meaning of existence in general, as well as our own part in that meaning, is the goal of the philosophical inquiry. For the sake of this essay, we’ll set aside the philosophical aspects of this debate. As psychologists, we are unable to add to this discussion.
However, the second version of this issue – how do we find purpose in our lives – is psychological in nature and thus of more importance to us as a result.
Finding Meaning as You Grow Older Finding meaning as you grow older is a difficult task.
As we get older, our life situations and experiences change. We go through different phases of life, such as parenting and job transitions, and each step provides us with its own set of difficulties and opportunities.
As we get older, we are also more prone to suffer a number of setbacks. We may lose our parents or our spouses, we may be laid off, or we may get a disease. While the conventional image of an older adult is one of someone who is weak and in need of care, older age is not associated with a life that is less important or worthwhile.
In reality, many older people have very active and full lives, and their good psychological profiles serve as a protective shield against illnesses such as cancer, loneliness, and despair. Evidence suggests that centenarians have overwhelmingly favorable views and psychological qualities, with just a few negative characteristics.
Centenarians are more calm and easygoing (Samuelsson et al., 1997), put a high value on social connections and events (Wong et al., 2014), have a more positive life attitude in general (Wong et al., 2014), and report lower levels of anxiety (Samuelsson et al., 1997).
Combined with the rare negative characteristics seen in older people, these positive aging traits and attitudes serve as a protective buffer against despair, sickness, and loneliness (Jopp et al. 2016, Keyes, 2000), and contribute to the lifespan of centenarians.
It is difficult to alter your personality characteristics all at once; but, working with a therapist who is educated in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy makes it feasible to change your thinking habits. Your therapist can assist you in identifying and altering problematic habits of thinking and behavior, as well as assisting you in adopting a more positive pattern of thought.
Centenarians place a high emphasis on social interactions and are enthusiastic participants in social activities (Wong et al., 2014).
Creating new social relationships may be challenging for older individuals, particularly after retirement, since the ‘natural setting’ for meeting new people, such as the job, is no longer there. This does not rule out opportunities for older folks to meet new people and establish new connections.
Retirement brings with it more free time and the possibility of discovering a new interest or passion. And, as previously said, developing a passion is one method to create a sense of purpose. Vallerand (2012) gives an excellent explanation of the function that motivation plays in generating passion and how passion leads to a meaningful existence.
If you are an older adult, now may be an excellent time to begin your journey. Remember that good (rather than negative/obsessive/maladaptive) passions are formed from the pleasant associations that people have with certain activities (Vallerand, 2012). These passions are activities that we make time for, in which we invest, and in which we participate.
You may carve out time to paint because you have a love for it, and you will feel a great lot of pleasure after you have finished the activity. You may also incorporate that passion into your concept of yourself (for example, you may consider yourself a “painter”). One of the first stages in establishing habits is to incorporate the action into your idea of your self-concept (Clear, 2018).
‘Harmonious passions’ (Vallerand, 2012) are essential in our quest for significance in our life.
It is important to nurture these good interests. Not only do they assist us in finding purpose in our lives, but older people who do have a ‘passion’ tend to perform better on measures of psychological well-being as a result of their efforts. They report higher levels of life satisfaction, better health, more purpose in their lives, as well as lower levels of anxiety and depression than people who do not have a passion (Rosseau & Vallerand, 2003, as cited in Vallerand, 2012).
For the most part, it seems that centenarians have a good outlook and psychological characteristics, and they place a high importance on their social connections. These characteristics may help you live a longer, more fulfilling life while also protecting you against disease and despair. Another approach to create purpose in your life is to pursue activities and hobbies that will serve as a counterbalance to negative emotions and ideas.
So, what can you do to make your life more meaningful as you become older? The following list may be of use to you:
1. Schedule time for friends, family, and social gatherings.
Even while it’s tempting to put social connections on the back burner in favor of alone time (which is equally essential) or meeting job deadlines, fostering these relationships will have a greater beneficial effect in the long run. If you are the kind of person who forgets to meet up with friends or family, set a reminder on your calendar to remind you to do so.
2. Begin right away to pursue a new interest .
Make a time commitment to yourself to pursue your own interests. You may ask your spouse to take care of other chores at that time so that you can devote more time to your hobbies.
3. Speak about what makes you joyful.
If you’re just starting out with a new activity, it may be beneficial to explain what it is about the interest that you love. Consider writing a diary post on what you liked doing, or telling your spouse, friends, and family members about your new interest.
It is important to express why you love your activity in order to develop and establish good connections with it.
4. Tell others about your interest.
Find a community of people that share your interests and are interested in the same things that you are. Consider taking an art class if you like painting.
Alternatively, you may want to study a new language. Make an effort to connect with others who are also studying this language and watch a film in that language with them.
What is the purpose of life, according to a psychological perspective?
We will all be faced with versions of the following questions at some point in our lives:
What am I doing here?
Is this something I really want to do?
What is it that I wish to do?
They are also included in popular psychology and leadership self-help books, such as Find Your Why (Sinek, Mead, and Docker, 2017), as well as How to Find Your Passion and Purpose (Sinek, Mead, & Docker, 2016). (Gaisford, 2017).
Observant readers may point out that these are the kinds of inquiries that are often posed regarding our professions or our professional activities. People who are jobless or working part-time, on the other hand, may ask similar concerns and seek a more meaningful existence. These questions may be readily adapted to apply to various aspects of our life.
First and foremost, we must define what we understand by’meaning’ in order to address the issue of how to discover meaning.
Psychologists perform study and assess psychological variables such as happiness, sadness, and intellect. However, before they can be measured, constructions must first be specified.
Some scholars believe that, although’meaningfulness’ is often confused with other conceptions such as purpose, coherence, and pleasure, these notions are not interchangeable but rather create a complicated connection and exist independently.
Theorists such as Steger (2006) and Frazier (2006) assert that meaning is comprised of two distinct dimensions: coherence and purpose. In contrast to purpose, coherence refers to our understanding of our lives, while coherence refers to the objectives that we have for our lives.
Reker and Wong (1988) contend that a three-dimensional model of meaningfulness, consisting of coherence, purpose, and a third component called significance, is more effective in explaining and understanding it. The feeling that our lives are worthwhile and that life has intrinsic meaning is referred to as significance. These three structures work together to create a feeling of significance.
Coherence, purpose, and meaning have been reframed as motivational and cognitive processes in certain studies. Heintzelman and King (2014) propose a model consisting of three components: a feeling of direction, a sense of belonging, and a sense that one’s life makes sense.
Goal direction and mattering are both important components of motivation, and they are identical with the concepts of purpose and importance. The third component – the feeling that one’s life has – is a cognitive component, similar to importance in other words.
When these three components – coherence, purpose, and importance – are together, they produce emotions of significance. Having established that meaningfulness may be drawn from three different areas, let us consider the many ways in which we might discover our own sense of meaning.
5 Ways to Discover and Live Your Purpose
What is the best way to go about discovering our meaning? First and foremost, there is no one cure for the feeling of living a life without purpose. Finding meaning is, at the end of the day, a personal quest. What gives significance to me may not provide meaning to you. However, this does not rule out the possibility that the methods employed to discover meaning may be beneficial. When Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning: A Personal Account (1959, p. 99), he endorsed the idea that seeking meaning is a personal path.
The quest for meaning in one’s life is the main reason for one’s existence, rather than a “secondary rationalization” of innate impulses. This meaning is unique and particular in that it must and can only be realized by him alone; only then does it acquire a significance that will satisfy his own desire to meaning.
Consider the following ideas as you continue your search for meaning:
Inspire a sense of urgency (purpose)
According to Vallerand (2012), our desire and interest in activities are driven by either motivation or passion.
Passion drives us to do things that are meaningful to us, while motivation is helpful for tasks that are deemed mundane (e.g., cleaning the dishes).
However, passion may be either bad or good. Negative passions, also known as obsessive passions, are maladaptive and may lead to harmful behaviors; thus, these kinds of passions should be avoided.
Tell others about your interest.
Find a community of like-minded people that share your passion for whatever it is that you are interested in. If you like painting, you may want to try taking an art class.
Alternatively, you may choose to learn a new language. Make an effort to connect with others who are studying the same language and watch a film in that language together.
Make an effort to get involved in and contribute in your community.
Simple actions such as greeting and speaking with your neighbors, conversing with the sellers at your local shops and neighborhood markets, and participating in neighborhood events can assist you in developing connections with your neighbors and other people of your community.
This will happen over time as the connections develop and become more important. Furthermore, keep in mind that, as an older adult, you have a great lot to contribute to your neighborhood. It is likely that you have gone through a variety of life events, career/professional/vocational choices, and family choices. Throughout your life, you have accumulated a wealth of information that you may offer with others.
Older people who participate in their favorite hobbies on a regular basis and who have a healthy, positive connection with their preferred activity have higher psychological functioning than their peers.