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

This can be with family or friends you already have, but it can also be with new people. Either way, take the time to build close relationships with others. This is one great way to add meaning to your life because these relationships are deep, and provide benefit to you as well in the form of love and support. In the Eastern philosophical tradition, there’s how to create meaning in life yet another simple answer to the difficult question of life’s meaning—a response that can’t be articulated exactly, but is sensed through deep observation of nature. The sixth-century Chinese sage Lao Tzu—who is said to have dictated the Tao Te Ching before escaping civilization for solitude in the mountains—believed the universe supplies our value.

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This, in and of itself, can add meaning because it requires you to go to work each day with a goal in mind.You can also try to look for small ways that your jobs allow you to help others or even just yourself. For example, if you work at a daycare, you are helping not only the children you care for, but also the families of the children by allowing them time to go to work or take care of personal things. If you’re a teacher, not only do you help other people learn, but you also learn many things about many topics too. Casey Woodling, a professor of philosophy and religious studies at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, proposes in Philosophy Now that the question of meaningfulness itself offers an answer. “What makes a human life have meaning or significance is not the mere living of a life, but reflecting on the living of a life,” he writes. Given the now-documented long-term social, mental, and physical benefits of having a sense of meaning in life, the recommendation here is clear.

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There is a different argument for an extreme God-based view that focuses less on God as purposive and more on God as infinite, unlimited, or ineffable, which Robert Nozick first articulated with care (Nozick 1981, 594–618; see also Bennett-Hunter 2014; Waghorn 2014). The core idea is that for a finite condition to be meaningful, it must obtain its meaning from another condition that has meaning. So, if one’s life is meaningful, it might be so in virtue of being married to a person, who is important. Being finite, the spouse must obtain his or her importance from elsewhere, perhaps from the sort of work he or she does. This work also must obtain its meaning by being related to something else that is meaningful, and so on. A regress on meaningful conditions is present, and the suggestion is that the regress can terminate only in something so all-encompassing that it need not go beyond itself to obtain meaning from anything else. The standard objection to this relational rationale is that a finite condition could be meaningful without obtaining its meaning from another meaningful condition.

Kantianism is a philosophy based on the ethical, epistemological, and metaphysical works of Immanuel Kant. Kant is known for his deontological theory where there is a single moral obligation, the «Categorical Imperative», derived from the concept of duty. Kantians believe all actions are performed in accordance with some underlying maxim or principle, and for actions to be ethical, they must adhere to the categorical imperative. Neurotheology is a controversial field which tries to find neural correlates and mechanisms of religious experience. Some researchers have suggested that the human brain has innate mechanisms for such experiences and that living without using them for their evolved purposes may be a cause of imbalance. Studies have reported conflicting results on correlating happiness with religious belief and it is difficult to find unbiased meta-analyses. Neuroscience describes reward, pleasure, and motivation in terms of neurotransmitter activity, especially in the limbic system and the ventral tegmental area in particular. If one believes that the meaning of life is to maximize pleasure and to ease general life, then this allows normative predictions about how to act to achieve this.

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Break these long-term goals into specific actions that you can accomplish every day. For instance, reframe the goal “write a book” as “write for a half hour every day.” You can also find a sense of purpose by focusing on having a positive impact on other people’s lives. Start by helping others in small ways, like offering to help your elderly neighbor with yardwork or cooking a nice meal for your partner when they’ve had a stressful day. If you’re going through a hard time, remember that life’s challenges can help you become a more compassionate person, which will further strengthen your connections with others. In many cases, the results of the open-ended and closed-ended questions resemble one another. Similarly, career is mentioned as a source of meaning and fulfillment by one-third of respondents in both the open-ended and the closed-ended questions.

  • Another recent proposal is that meaningfulness consists of “an active engagement and affirmation that vivifies the person who has freely created or accepted and now promotes and nurtures the projects of her highest concern” .
  • It requires you to really be honest with yourself about how you live your life.
  • According to nihilism , what would make a life meaningful in principle cannot obtain for any of us.
  • Listen as Arthur C. Brooks and Lori Gottlieb explore the key components of happiness—pleasure, joy, and satisfaction in How to Build a Happy Life.
  • The theories are standardly divided on a metaphysical basis, that is, in terms of which kinds of properties are held to constitute the meaning.

For instance, they contacted their friends frequently, belonged to social groups, engaged in volunteering, and maintained a suite of healthy habits relating to sleep, diet and exercise. The findings join a body of prior research documenting longitudinal relationships between meaning in life and social functioning, net wealth and reduced mortality, especially among older adults. Discovering your purpose and living life according to your values is no simple feat. Be patient and give yourself time to figure out what you value, and adjust your actions accordingly. To help you discover your core values and live a purpose-driven and meaningful life. Though this exercise doesn’t take long to complete, if done properly, it can have long-lasting effects in helping you to live a life full of meaning. Conversely, there are few topics that those with lower levels of income and education mention more often than others. If you can’t shake feelings of emptiness or doubts about finding meaning in life, think about talking to a counselor.


Common instances are views that one’s life is more meaningful, the more one gets what one happens to want strongly, achieves one’s highly ranked goals, or does what one believes to be really important (Trisel 2002; Hooker 2008). One influential subjectivist has recently maintained that the relevant mental state is caring or loving, so that life is meaningful just to the extent that one cares about or loves something (Frankfurt 1988, 80–94, 2004). Another recent proposal is that meaningfulness consists of “an active engagement and affirmation that vivifies the person who has freely created or accepted and now promotes and nurtures the projects of her highest concern” . For members of some religious traditions as well – particularly evangelical Protestants and members of the historically black Protestant tradition – faith matches or exceeds anything else as the top source of meaning and fulfillment. About two-thirds (65%) of evangelical Protestants say they find “a great deal” of meaning in their religious faith, including 45% who say religion is the most important source of meaning in their lives – higher than the share who say this about family (31%).

For example, one interpretation is that the Big Bang occurred coincidentally, and when considering the anthropic principle, it is sometimes interpreted as implying the existence of a multiverse. Despite ample advice from experts, individuals regularly engage in activities that may only have short-term benefit for well-being, or even backfire. The pursuit of happiness and health is a popular endeavour, as the preponderance of self-help books would attest. As you can see from these examples, intentions are an ongoing process. They are not just something that can be achieved or «crossed off» your list. Ranking your values in order of importance helps you to ensure that you’re spending your time and energy on the most important things in your life.

The Meaning of Life Is Surprisingly Simple

For the most part, these and other patterns are observed in both the open-ended and closed-ended questions . These divergent results underscore the very different nature of the two kinds of questions. The results of the open-ended question suggest that when asked to describe, in their own words, what provides them with meaning and fulfillment and satisfaction in life, relatively few people think immediately of pets or caring for animals. Other things – including family, friends, career and religious faith – may come to mind much more quickly for most people. Subjectivism was dominant in the middle of the twentieth century, when positivism, noncognitivism, existentialism, and Humeanism were influential (Ayer 1947; Hare 1957; Barnes 1967; Taylor 1970; Williams 1976). Those who continue to hold subjectivism often Sober House remain suspicious of attempts to justify beliefs about objective value (e.g., Trisel 2002, 73, 79, 2004, 378–79; Frankfurt 2004, 47–48, 55–57; Wong 2008, 138–39; Evers 2017, 32, 36; Svensson 2017, 54). In contrast to these possibilities, it appears straightforward to account for what is meaningful in terms of what people find meaningful or what people want out of their lives. Wide-ranging meta-ethical debates in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language are necessary to address this rationale for subjectivism. Recall that naturalism is the view that a physical life is central to life’s meaning, that even if there is no spiritual realm, a substantially meaningful life is possible. Like supernaturalism, contemporary naturalism admits of two distinguishable variants, moderate and extreme .

What gives life meaning philosophy?

The meaning of life, as we perceive it, is derived from philosophical and religious contemplation of, and scientific inquiries about existence, social ties, consciousness, and happiness.

Sometimes, thinking about these big topics can make life feel meaningless. When life is too much to process, chaotic, or unpredictable, turn to your spiritual and cultural traditions to renew your sense of order. I use my skill of writing and interest in personal development to help people get out of their own way and find the courage to live a life that’s true to them. Because I believe in the beauty of living a fearless life and using our creativity to bring more good to this world—but we can only do so if we learn how to look inward and change the way we think. She used her skill of photography, and her interest in fostering human connection, to remind people that, as humans, we’re far more similar than we are different. So, inspired by her work of walking up to strangers and asking them three questions , she created a community, a brand, and a card game with the intention of empowering meaningful connections between people.

Similarly, 23% of higher-income U.S. adults mention being in good health, compared with 10% of lower-income Americans. And among those with a college degree, 11% mention travel and a sense of security as things that make their lives fulfilling, compared with 3% and 2%, respectively, who name these sources of meaning among those with a high school degree or less. A salient argument for this position is that judgments of the meaningfulness of a part of someone’s life are merely provisional, open to revision upon considering how they fit into a wider perspective. It is worth considering how far this sort of case is generalizable, and, if it can be to a substantial extent, whether that provides strong evidence that only life as a whole can exhibit meaningfulness. Many major historical figures in philosophy have provided an answer to the question of what, if anything, makes life meaningful, although they typically have not put it in these terms . Consider, for instance, Aristotle on the human function, Aquinas on the beatific vision, and Kant on the highest good. The central role played by the search for meaning in human experience should come as no surprise. Research shows that not only does finding a sense of meaning in life inform our goals and priorities, but it also shapes how we respond to life’s twists and turns.

In the closed-ended question, the most commonly cited sources that provide Americans with “a great deal” of meaning and fulfillment include being outdoors, spending time with friends, caring for pets and listening to music. By this measure, religious faith ranks lower, on par with reading and careers. But among those who do find a great deal of meaning in their religious faith, more than half say it is the single most important source of meaning in their lives. Overall, 20% of Americans say religion is the most meaningful aspect of their lives, second only to the share who say this about family (40%). Religion is not the most commonly referenced source of meaning and fulfillment in either survey. In the open-ended question, one-in-five adults mention spirituality and religious faith when describing the things they find meaningful and fulfilling, which is on par with the share who mention friends and various activities or hobbies. And in the closed-ended question, 36% of those surveyed say they get “a great deal” of meaning and fulfillment from their religious faith, which is roughly equivalent to the share who draw the same level of meaning from reading or from their career. There is a cluster of other, more circumscribed arguments for subjectivism, according to which this theory best explains certain intuitive features of meaning in life. For one, subjectivism seems plausible since it is reasonable to think that a meaningful life is an authentic one (Frankfurt 1988, 80–94).

When viewed in isolation, or up close, losing a loved one, being abused, or experiencing a serious illness can make life seem meaningless. Processing traumatic events isn’t easy, but it can be helpful to understand trauma in the context of a broader life story. Seeing trauma and tragedy as opportunities to grow and be of service to others can help you find meaning in life’s most difficult situations. Consider how you can leave lasting impacts on the people in your life. You don’t need to have a monument in your honor to leave a lasting legacy. From teaching someone a lesson or skill to helping a loved one through tough times, you can make a meaningful impact through positive actions.

Also under-explored is the issue of whether groups, such as a people or an organization, can be bearers of meaning, and, if so, under what conditions. If you find a deficit in a particular area of meaning, search for it in a productive way. Fortunately, you don’t have to figure out how to do it on your own—philosophical and religious traditions have been doing exactly that for millennia. One of the best organized strategies comes from Hinduism’s concept of the ashramas, or the four stages of a balanced life. The third is Vanaprastha—literally “retiring to the forest,” in Sanskrit—which ideally begins at about age 50 and entails stepping back from day-to-day demands to focus more on life’s deep meaning through reflection, meditation, and study. You can do a version of this at any stage of life by dedicating time each day to the search. For others, it requires the study of texts or working with masters. But you have to approach it as you would any other important goal—by doing the work.

how to create meaning in life

It gives them a reason to wake up in the morning, a reason to bust their ass at work. It gives them something that makes them feel important and something to look forward to every day. Another difference is that seeking and realizing the meaning of life is usually seen by most theorists as a positive and worthwhile undertaking. Importance, however, can be either positive or negative depending on the type of value difference involved. For example, Alexander Fleming was important in a positive sense since his discovery of penicillin helped many people cure their bacterial infections.

Our challenge is to create a life that contains a story worth telling. Of course, Ted is far from being alone with his existential angst. Many of us are quite successful in pushing our feelings of unease into the background. Whenever possible, we prefer not to think of death, or at least to pay little conscious attention to its inevitable reality. The tragic quality of our lives is that we are the only species that has to live with the understanding and consciousness of our death. There is logical space for a non-naturalist theory, according to which central to meaning is an abstract property that is neither spiritual nor physical. However, only scant attention has been paid to this possibility in the recent Anglo-American-Australasian literature .

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