4 Ways to Achieve Meaning and Purpose in Your Life

Having meaning and purpose in life decreases suicidal thoughts and depression.

Posted Dec 31, 2017

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Seeking happiness for purely happiness' sake can be fleeting and disappointing.  It's having meaning and purpose in life that lead to happiness.  Read on to discover the four factors that make up meaning and happiness in life.  

While purpose and happiness are distinctly different concepts, feeling a sense of meaning in your life can be a key factor in experiencing happiness (Kauppinen, 2013).   

First, the concept of happiness changes as we age.  When we are younger, we associate happiness with excitement - and as we get older, we associate happiness with peace (Mogilner, Kamvar, and Aaker, 2011).  This may happen because we tend to shift our focus from the future to the present as we age (Mogilner, Kamvar, and Aaker, 2011). 

How does meaning and purpose impact us? Heisel and Flett (2014) found having meaning in life was found to significantly decrease suicidal thoughts and depressive symptoms in older adults.

So what makes up "purpose and meaning" in life?  According to Drageset, Haugan, and Tranvåg (2017), there are four main experiences that encourage meaning and purpose in life: 

  • Physical and mental well-being
  • Belonging and recognition
  • Personally treasured activities
  • Spiritual closeness and connectedness 

Physical and mental well-being means not just taking good care of your body; it means taking care of your mind.  This can be achieved, in part, through stress-reduction techniques and positive thinking and expectations. 

Belonging and recognition refers to feeling valued and validated, and feeling like others "get" you.  

Personally treasured activities are things you do that make you feel good - hobbies, spending time with your grandchildren - things that you do where it feels like you are in the moment and time flies by. 

Spiritual closeness and connectedness can happen even if you do not have a religious practice.  While religion can be part of spirituality, spirituality goes beyond religion.  Spiritual closeness and connectedness is a feeling that all living things in the world are interrelated.  

You may be wondering what truly gives your life meaning.  The truth is, what gives our lives purpose and meaning changes over time.  It particularly changes after a big life event or crisis.  Some self-reflection is a good way to start discovering what truly matters to you. 

A book I recommend to clients, particularly after a change in life circumstances, is Carol Adrienne's paperback Find Your Purpose, Change Your Life: Getting to the Heart of Your Life's Mission (Kindle link) (2001).  Find Your Purpose is a workbook that helps you discover your values in life - in other words, what gives your life meaning.  From there, you explore what you would like to see become of your life.  I have worked with clients that went from feeling stuck to feeling a renewed sense of purpose from working through the book.  

May your life be filled with meaning and purpose. 

www.stephaniesarkis.com

Copyright 2017 Sarkis Media

References

Adrienne, C. (2001). Find your purpose, change your life: Getting to the heart of your life's mission.  New York: William Morrow Paperbacks. 

Drageset, J., Haugan, G., & Tranvåg, O. (2017). Crucial aspects promoting meaning and purpose in life: perceptions of nursing home residents. BMC geriatrics, 17(1), 254.

Heisel, M. J., & Flett, G. L. (2014). Do meaning in life and purpose in life protect against suicide ideation among community-residing older adults?. In Meaning in positive and existential psychology (pp. 303-324). New York: Springer.

Kauppinen, A. (2013). Meaning and happiness. Philosophical Topics, 41(1), 161-185.

Mogilner, C., Kamvar, S. D., & Aaker, J. (2011). The shifting meaning of happiness. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(4), 395-402.