Meaning & Purpose
“the human brain cannot sustain purposeless living”
The question of what gives our lives meaning has been reflected on and discussed for thousands of years, and it’s a question that most of us ask ourselves when we feel that our life lacks meaning or purpose, leaving us to feel somehow empty inside or lost. Research has confirmed that finding meaning and purpose in life has a tremendous positive effect on our wellbeing and our resilience.
Some people set out on a spiritual quest to answer the question “who am I and what can I do to make life worth living” and find their answer in religion or spirituality. Some people are less spiritually inclined and may struggle more to find meaning and purpose in life. Whether you consider yourself spiritual or not, finding meaning and purpose in life is a very personal experience – it depends entirely on what is important to you and should be independent of what others think. Of course, the law has to be respected.
So, how can you find more meaning and purpose in life? We find meaning in our lives when we explore what our own values and character strengths are, and when we live a life based on these values and strengths. Values are our deep-set beliefs from which we operate. Whether we are aware of it or not, they are the why to what we do. Our character strengths are the things that we are good at. Positive psychology has determined 24 universal character strengths that are present in each human being to differing degrees:
To find out what your strengths are, you can take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths or simply look at the graph and think about which strengths apply to you, or ask a friend or a loved one to tell you which strengths apply to you.
We find purpose in life, when we set goals that are based on our values and strengths, and actively work towards achieving them. These can be smaller, temporary goals or big life goals.
To give you an example, someone who has justice as a value and bravery as a character strength may decide to become a police officer. Someone who has family as a value and love as a character strength may decide to become a stay-at-home mum or dad. Doing their job or raising their children will give them both meaning and purpose in their life.
If you would like to find more meaning and purpose in life, take a moment to think about and write down what your personal values are. Write down as many as you can think of (you can always return to your list later and add more). Then have a look at your character strengths. Once you have your values and your strengths, you can start to think about things you can do that are an active reflection of that value/character strength. Try to find at least two activities per value. Pick your favourite ones and integrate them into your life.
Remember that we constantly evolve and what is important to us can change with time – so your character strengths may evolve or your values may change and they may need revisiting from time to time. This is absolutely normal and nothing to be afraid of. When you notice that one value/character strength/activity no longer applies to you, find out what is important to you now and do that instead.