People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do. They also experience less stress, anxiety and depression.
But where do we find ‘meaning and purpose’? The answers vary for each of us.
A simple way to describe having ‘meaning’ in your life is that it’s about being part of something that we really believe in that is bigger than ourselves.
It helps us answer the question: Why are we here?
Religious faith or other spiritual practices are the answer for many people but they’re not the only sources. For many of us, our relationships with others give us meaning – as parents, friends and members of a community.
Other important sources include finding your ‘calling’ – a job or activity that you’re passionate about – or having a deep connection to the natural world. What is certain is that ‘meaning’ is something very individual. No one can tell us what gives meaning to our lives – we have to find out for ourselves.
and there are many different ways, such as:
• through experiences (often difficult ones)
• through deep reflection
• from loving and being loved
• from the way you choose to approach other people and the world around
We can each find our own.
For some people, it’s obvious early on – for example, a calling to teach or become a doctor or to follow a particular faith.
For many, however, it is a search that can take a lifetime. And sometimes a practice, such as meditation, can help us become more in touch with our feelings and deepest selves.
Interestingly, although there is strong evidence that having meaning in our lives is good for our wellbeing, there appears to be relatively little research on ‘the search’. Some research even seems to suggest that those in active pursuit of meaning may be more likely to be anxious or depressed. This suggests it can be a bit of ‘chicken or egg’ experience.
A good approach is to consciously think about which activities, people and beliefs bring us the strongest sense of purpose and passion. Then we can focus on making sure that we prioritise these things in our busy lives. Often, we’re so busy just hurtling ahead and end up exhausted at the end of each day without ever finding time to think about what really gives our lives meaning.
Sometimes it is only when we reach important new stages in our lives, such as parenthood, middle age or retirement – or when something happens to disrupt our lives – that we start to think about the point of being here and what is really important.
But it’s never too soon (or too late) to start putting the really important things first.