How to Find True Meaning in Life (in 3 Steps)
This simple strategy could help you start looking more closely for meaning.
Posted November 21, 2018
So often we walk through life like zombies — our bodies are present, but our minds are elsewhere. We're not mindful, so we're not really paying attention. (If you're not sure how mindful you are, start with the well-being quiz.)
When we're not present, we can miss the things in life that really matter — the things that give us a sense of meaning or purpose. To find true meaning in life, we have to look for it a little harder. Here's one strategy that might help you get started.
Step 1: Look for Meaning in Life
Spend one week taking photographs of all the things that make you feel even a little bit of meaning. Don't be too picky. Really try to snap a shot of anything you can think of that feels meaningful. For example, people, places, important objects, experiences — really anything. Some of the photos I might take would be of my cat, my husband, the garden down the street from me, the fall leaves crunching under my toes, and my stack of postcards that help me stay connected to people out of state.
You could spend a few minutes each day taking these pictures or take them throughout your day, trying to notice all the little things that give you a bit of meaning. It's up to you.
Step 2: Reflect on All the Things That Give You Meaning in Life
At the end of the week, take some time to look at all your photos. Scroll through them on your smartphone or computer, reflecting on each one. For each one, ask yourself the following questions: "What is in this photograph, and why is it meaningful to me? What does it make me think of? How does it make me feel?"
Step 3: Reframe How You Think of True Meaning in Life
After completing this activity, take a moment to think about what creates true meaning in life. We can never really know what is the meaning of life. But we can discover what creates a sense of meaning in life, although the answer may be different for each of us. For you, is it things, people, experiences, or all of the above? When you are able to answer this question, you can act on the answer, spending more of your life pursuing the things that give you meaning and doing things that promote your well-being.
Steger, M. F., Shim, Y., Barenz, J., & Shin, J. Y. (2014). Through the windows of the soul: A pilot study using photography to enhance meaning in life. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 3(1), 27-30.