What is meaning and purpose?
Although often used interchangeably, meaning and purpose are not the same!
In positive psychology, meaning refers to how we “make sense of life and our roles in it,” while purpose refers to the “aspirations that motivate our activities.”
Meaning comes from reflecting on and thinking about, what we do, who we interact with and the impact we have on other people and the wider world. How much meaning we experience depends on how much we perceive our life as having purpose, significance, impact and direction.
Purpose is about our motivations, goals and dreams, and our efforts to achieve them.
Consequently, everyone is going to draw meaning from, and find purpose in, different things.
Why do you need a sense of purpose in life?
One question I get asked a lot, 'Is finding meaning important to my happiness?'
And the short answer is a resounding yes! But it's never quite as simple as that as meaning can be derived from many different sources.
One thing researchers agree on, is that however we find meaning is very important to our wellbeing, with people who have increased meaning reporting greater levels of happiness and life satisfaction, and lower levels of anxiety and depression.
Meaning also helps us gain perspective and see the big picture in life, deepening our understanding of the roles we play in our families and wider communities.
Quite simply, as humans it seems to be a fundamental part of our make up to strive to make sense of our experiences by making connections and seeking meaning.
Chances are if you feel like something is missing in your life, or you feel unfulfilled, then you are on a path that does not honour your personal values or bring you meaning and purpose!
How can you find meaning and purpose?
Finding meaning and purpose is highly subjective, as everyone experiences it in a different way.
However, one of the most effective ways to find meaning and purpose is to get to know yourself. Understand your personal values, your strengths, your passions, skills and dreams.
Know the legacy you want to leave behind and the impact you wish to have on the world.
Explore your weaknesses and find the strength to accept that mistakes are part of life and vital to strong learning skills and resilience.
Be curious and reflective, and ask questions of yourself and others, without judgment or self-consciousness.
How do you know when you've found your meaning and purpose?
You will feel more relaxed and at ease because you will accept who you truly are, feel confident in where you are going, and you will be doing something that uses your strengths and is aligned with your goals.
People who report that they have found their meaning and purpose feel energised by what they do, talk about it passionately and will usually tell you it doesn't feel like work.
They set personal and professional goals and quite often reflect on whether they are still on track. They also express gratitude, awe and wonder at the world and their place in it.
Coaching is a highly effective method for increasing self-awareness and self-acceptance, and for setting and achieving goals.
Quite often, people who experience high levels of meaning and purpose are engaged in work or activities that make a difference to the lives of other people.
They volunteer, they donate to charity, their work directly helps others. In fact, altruism seems to be strongly associated with meaning and purpose.
Here are 4 simple ways you can increase meaning and purpose:
Complete the Values In Action strengths assessment to expand self-awareness and look for ways to use your top strengths every day.
Find a way to give something back or pay a kindness forward.
Spend more time outside in nature and pay attention to the changing seasons.
Expand your perspectives by reading more widely or by visiting an art exhibition that challenges your comfort zone.
5 ways you can make a difference in the world
Here are five ways you can make a real difference in the world and increase your meaning and purpose:
Listen - I mean, really listen. Not that half-hearted, still scrolling through Reddit while watching Vigil, listening. Put the phone down, switch off the TV and really listen to, and engage with, whoever you are talking to. You will be amazed at the difference it will make to them and to you.
Appreciate - No matter how small a gesture, show your appreciation for the small, habitual kindnesses other people show you. Express genuine gratitude and thanks and feel that sense of warmth spread throughout your heart.
Give - It doesn't matter whether it is time, money or gifts, give something to those people less fortunate than you. Maybe make a regular donation, or volunteer for a charity that means something to you, or just help out a friend or family member you know is struggling at the moment. Sometimes the best gift we can give is love and support.
Connect - Try joining a new club, group or organisation that interests you. Making new connections and strengthening relationships with people can expand your world view and transform your perspective. Who knows where it will lead...
Reflect - Spend some time each week reflecting on the positive emotions and experiences you have had in the last week, and whether you are still experiencing meaning and purpose. Make sure you are still aligned to your personal values and using your strengths effectively. Every Sunday I share three self-reflective journal questions on my Instagram page @KeystoneCoachingLtd, so make sure you follow me and give them a go.
Finally, ask yourself, what will my legacy be? What difference do I want to have created in the world? What do I hope people say about me?
Identifying your personal values is an effective first step towards finding greater meaning and purpose in life.
My free guide to 'Identifying Your Core Values in 3 Easy Steps' can be downloaded here and includes a list of 240 core values to help you get started!
Download it now and discover how to live a more aligned and happy life!
If you want to increase your meaning and purpose in life, then sign up for my 'Do What You Love!' coaching program.
My 12 week holistic coaching program is designed to explore your strengths, values, skills, passions and dreams to help you gain clarity about what you really want from life. We will identify a new pathway filled with excitement, motivation and joy, without sacrificing your wellbeing! Check it out here.