The most influential God-based account of meaning in life has been the extreme view that one’s existence is significant if and only if one fulfills a purpose God has assigned. The familiar idea is that God has a plan for the universe and that one’s life is meaningful just to the degree that one helps God realize this plan, perhaps in a particular way that God wants one to do so. If a person failed to do what God intends her to do with her life , then, on the current view, her life would be meaningless. The thought is that meaning is well represented by a bipolar scale, where there is a dimension of not merely positive conditions, but also negative ones. Gratuitous cruelty or destructiveness are prima facie candidates for actions that not merely fail to add meaning, but also subtract from any meaning one’s life might have had. There is also debate about how the concept of a meaningless life relates to the ideas of a life that is absurd (Nagel 1970, 1986, 214–23; Feinberg 1980; Belliotti 2019), futile , and not worth living (Landau 2017, 12–15; Matheson 2017). If you have a job that you don’t find meaningful, then focus on being the best at your job.
If you are interacting with a family member, or co-worker, take the time to be fully present and really listen to what the other person is saying, rather than being caught up in your own agenda or script. If you are walking from the parking lot to your office, take time to move out of the thoughts in your head to observe your surroundings and see how many things you are aware of that you may not have noticed before. If you are eating a meal, notice the textures and flavors as if they were ones you had never experienced before. Of course it is likely that you may slip back “into your head” as you try this, but each time you catch yourself, gently and compassionately bring the focus of your attention back to your present moment experience. Start with just a few minutes at a time that you can designate as your mindful moments. Notice how paying attention in this way changes how you experience those moments. Practicing mindfulness meditation can be a helpful way to recognize when we are getting lost in our thoughts and to learn to disengage from autopilot. Each time we catch our minds wandering away, it is an opportunity to come back to this present moment. While formal meditation practice is greatly beneficial, we can also practice informally by paying attention to the moments of our lives in a more awake and mindful way. This involves bringing greater mindful awareness into our day by purposefully paying attention and noticing what is happening in the present moment, in a non-judgmental way.
In Japanese culture, to find meaning and purpose in life is to find one’sikigai. We have a fantastic and in-depth exercise called Identifying Your Ikigai, which takes you through a series of steps to assess and help you find your fulfilling meaning in life. It’s easy to neglect social relationships in favor of alone time or work deadlines, but promoting these relationships will have a more positive impact in the long term. Sober Home If you are the type of person who forgets to see friends or family, add a reminder to your calendar. With retirement comes more free time and possibly an opportunity to develop a new hobby or passion. And as we previously mentioned, finding a passion is one way to develop meaning. Vallerand provides an excellent summary of the role that motivation plays in developing passion and how passion leads to a meaningful life.
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For instance, you may love painting, treasure travel, or always put your family first. Don’t worry if you’re having a hard time coming up with a list of goals and values. Getting to know yourself and your priorities takes time, so have patience. The people who know you best can offer a helpful perspective, so get help clarifying your core values and goals from those closest to you. Whether you’re practicing the piano, writing, or saving up to buy a house, accomplishing a concrete step every day can make your actions feel more meaningful. After dividing big, unapproachable goals into more doable terms, commit to making them happen every day. Set reminders on your phone, place motivational words and pictures in prominent spots, and schedule blocks of undisturbed time every day for your personal projects. It’s especially tough if you’ve lost someone close to you or if you or a loved one are facing a life-threatening illness. Questioning life’s meaning in these situations is normal, but don’t let doubt overwhelm you.
Method 3 of 3:Making Sense of Life Experiences
This is not to reduce the commentary’s importance, and Armstrong considers that its study, interpretation, and ritual are the means by which religious people internalize and live the golden rule. The Mohist philosophers believed that the purpose of life was universal, impartial love. Mohism promoted a philosophy of impartial caring—a person should care equally for all other individuals, regardless of their actual relationship to him or her. The expression of this indiscriminate caring is what makes a man a righteous being in Mohist thought. This advocacy of impartiality was a target of attack by the other Chinese philosophical schools, most notably the Confucians who believed that while love should be unconditional, it should not be indiscriminate. For example, children should hold a greater love for their parents than for random strangers.
So, say you feel purposeless because you’re not as accomplished in your profession as you dreamed of being. You could theoretically derive meaning from other endeavors, like relationships, volunteer work, travel, or creative activities, to name just a few. It may also be that the things you already do really are meaningful, and that you’re not valuing them sufficiently because you’re focused on a single factor for value. For subjectivists, depending on who and where we are at any given point, the value of any given activity varies.
The closed-ended survey also finds that both black and Hispanic Americans are less likely than whites to say that spending time with friends provides them with “a great deal” of meaning. And whereas about half of Hispanics and whites say they get “a great deal” of meaning from pets or spending time in nature, just a quarter of black respondents say they get “a great deal” of meaning from pets (26%), and one-third say the same about nature (32%). The surveys find similar patterns with respect to being outdoors and experiencing nature, fitness activities, and creative hobbies . These are all cited as providing a great deal of meaning by much larger shares of respondents when they are reminded about them in the closed-ended question than when they are asked to express, in their own words, what makes their lives meaningful and fulfilling. Finally, a distinguishable source of nihilism concerns the ontological, as distinct from axiological, preconditions for meaning in life. Perhaps most radically, there are those who deny that we have selves.
Lucky you if you were born already knowing what the meaning of your life is. Philosophy is often unhelpful, offering abstract ideas such as Aristotle’s human function or Kant’s “highest good” that are hard to comprehend, let alone put into action. You can be useful once you leverage your skills to make a difference in the lives of others. And that’s the premise behind psychologist Martin Seligman’s aforementioned definition of meaning. If you’re brilliant at the skill of skiing, but you dislike the act of training and coaching and you genuinely don’t care to gift the world with better skiers, then you’ll never be able to find the love within yourself to teach people how to ski. And this purpose is the path through which you learn to focus your energy on what matters to you, and in doing so, induce meaning onto the bumpy journey of life. When you see someone suffering or doing something that annoys you, try to put yourself in his shoes. Think about how you would feel or behave if you were facing the same situation.
Some people seem to spend their whole lives dissatisfied, in search of a purpose. But philosopher Iddo Landau suggests that all of us have everything we need for a meaningful existence. As an experiment, pick a few minutes in a typical day and try to experience it as if it is totally fresh and new. When we do something for the first time, we are usually quite present and engaged.
- In the end, they found that people who are persistently engaged in the pursuit of deriving meaning, and focus on selfless, self-transcendent values, tend to have more feelings of personal power in stressful situations and make less harsh judgments.
- But while religion is not a universal source from which Americans say they obtain “a great deal” of meaning, it is a highly salient source of fulfillment among those who select it.
- If meaning happens through cognition, then it could come from any number of sources.
- Although most who hold supernaturalism also hold theism, one could accept the former without the latter , committing one to the view that life is meaningless or at least lacks substantial meaning.
Life is meaningful, they say, but its value is made by us in our minds, and subject to change over time. Landau argues that meaning is essentially a sense of worth which we may all derive in a different way—from relationships, creativity, accomplishment in a given field, or generosity, among other possibilities. Here are some more helpful strategies for finding meaning and purpose. Coming to the “stage” of each day being guided by what is most important to us, and approaching our daily routines as if for the first time, can help to transform ordinary, “going-through-the-motions” days into days filled with greater purpose and meaning.
Go over the list at the end of the week and try to think of ways to maximize the enjoyable, energizing things in your life. When we re-engineer our lives from reverse, the premise is that we are looking at life from the perspective of being on our death bed and contemplating what is really important to us. For example, many people arrive at a crossroad in their life, which is generally around middle age where they feel they must achieve a certain status or have acquired a certain level of recognition. Surely there must be more to existence than simply assigning a value to what we already have and thinking how to create meaning in life differently if we fail to recognize purpose in our lives. It shouldn’t be one of those things you hate to do, but instead have an idea of accomplishments you would like to see happen in you life and make a plan for working towards them by writing them down. Spend time with the people that add to your life and lift you up. Maybe you find meaning in that one flower that somehow grew from between the cracks of the sidewalk. Maybe there is meaning in looking over rolling hills that seem to stretch on forever. There are all sorts of little things that can provide meaning if you take the time to notice them.
It doesn’t happen all at once, and it’s not easy–just remind yourself that you can let go as many times as you feel you need to. Each time you begin again until you feel you have let it go completely. Reacting comes out of anger and disappointment; responding comes out of awareness and understanding. If you can stay connected to how you feel and what your body is telling you, you can quiet your reaction and allow a more reasoned response to take its place. It can happen in meetings, in one-on-one conversations, over email, and in personal relationships. Try to surround yourself with other people who attend to their relationships with others, act with purpose, and strive to learn more about themselves. Expressing your creativity can help you find a sense of fulfillment. Try taking up a new hobby that allows you to express or create something.