What Is Meaning? And How to Create a More Meaningful Life

What leads to meaning in life? And what do you do to create more meaning?

Posted Oct 12, 2020

AdinaVoicu Pixabay
Source: AdinaVoicu Pixabay

What is the definition of meaning?

When we talk about meaning in psychology, we are generally referring to a significant or valuable explanation for why something happened or why it matters. This sense of meaning contributes to greater well-being (take the well-being quiz to see where you're at now). Although there is some agreement on what leads to meaning in life, ultimately, the definition of meaning depends on who you ask. 

Here are some experts discussing what meaning is:

How is meaning different than happiness?

Both happiness and meaning come from interacting with other people. But meaning, in particular, comes from caring for others. For example, parenting contributes to more meaning but tends to contribute to less happiness.

Meaning also often comes from experiencing challenges, while happiness does not. Doing things that are hard can often generate a sense of meaning—we feel like we've done something important or meaningful.
Lastly, our identities can contribute to more meaning. For example, we may have had to overcome difficulties—difficulties that made us who we are. This sense of story about how we came to be who we are is often meaningful to us.

What situations are meaningful?

Here are some examples of meaningful situations that many people experience.

  • The birth of a child
  • Getting an important job
  • The death of a loved one
  • Divorce or relationship breakup
  • Losing a job
  • A near-death experience

It's interesting to see how meaning may more often come from difficulty than ease. Here are some more tips on how to make meaning from hardship.

How to create meaning in your life

Here are some ways to create meaning in your life

  • Volunteering or helping someone
  • Starting an important project
  • Pursuing something challenging
  • Expressing yourself
  • Learning something new

There are so many ways to create more meaning in your life. Here are some more helpful strategies for finding meaning and purpose.

Create meaning with kindness

Some of the best ways to cultivate meaning and purpose are giving, being kind, being compassionate, and being generous. These things may help you feel like you are in greater alignment with your values

Ask yourself, what are kind acts you could engage in? Your random acts of kindness could be as simple as sharing a kind word or thank you. Or you could do a task for someone, like mowing their lawn, getting them groceries, or shoveling snow. You can also be kind creatively, maybe by giving someone a hand-made card or picture.

You could also do community service or join a program to clean up the environment. When you are giving, you can start to feel that you are providing something that helps others and that you are living a life of meaning.

Regardless of the strategy you choose, kindness is a great way to create more meaning in your life.

What is already meaningful?

Don't forget to notice the meaning that is already in your life. 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. Or maybe you find meaning in spending time with your pets. There are all sorts of little things that can provide meaning if you take the time to notice them. 

If you make use of the tips provided here, you really can create more meaning in your life.

Created with content from The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.