Is it possible to find the meaning of life, or does the meaning appear on its own in certain life periods? How can we even find it? Does that mean we will be happier if we find meaning?
Renowned Canadian clinical psychologist, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and author of the world’s bestseller 12 Rules of Life, Jordan B. Peterson, points out: “The meaning is the path, the path to abundant life, and when you don’t give priority to anything, not even what you want or what you could want. ”
Read more about the importance of meaning and its psychological background in the rest of the article.
The Meaning of Life in Psychological Research
The existence of meaning in life is associated with a lower risk of death, and this was scientifically confirmed by a study published in 2019 on the JAMA Network Open website. The study included nearly 7,000 people and included an assessment of people’s psychological well-being through a seven-part questionnaire that assessed life purpose. The researchers concluded that meaning and purpose in life are associated with reduced mortality and that they generally affect better health.
The Study Indicates a Strong Connection Between Meaning and Health
It is important to mention that the study indicates a strong connection between meaning and health, but not a cause-and-effect relationship. Furthermore, people who reported feeling meaningful in their own lives also had a lower risk of divorce, greater connection with friends, engagement in social and cultural activities, lower risk of developing chronic illness and depression, and a propensity to accept positive health behaviors (e.g., exercise, healthy eating, etc.).
This is just one of many studies on the meaning of life. The conclusion seems to be in most research that there is a positive association between a sense of meaning, health benefits, and overall quality of life.
“The secret of the human being is not only in living but in why to live.” (FM Dostoevsky)
Meaning Opens up Possibilities
Based on the evidence so far, the main representatives of positive psychology explain the meaning and significance of life as a cornerstone of happiness and well-lived life. Meaning opens up possibilities. This information can awaken people in defining goals and ideals that make sense to them and reach the fullness of existence. Meaning has no clear definition or limit.
It doesn’t matter if you are a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, or a lawyer. It is important if you feel the meaning and purpose in your life. Seeking meaning can open the door to increased well-being and generally more successful coping with life’s challenges and opportunities. Having meaning makes it easier to achieve a goal or at least continue to strive for it, affecting better physical and mental health in general.
Viktor Frankl and the Search for the Meaning of Life – Logotherapy
“Ultimately, a man should not ask what the meaning of his life is but should understand that he is the one being asked. In short, every man is asked by life, and he can only answer for it by answering for his own life. ”(Viktor Frankl)
Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist, university professor, and founder of existential analysis and logotherapy (meaning-based psychotherapy), clarifies that meaning is not gained on a platter but must be found. He believed that the most important means by which we can find meaning is precisely our conscience, which he defines as the ability to recognize the demands found in different life situations.
Life Requires Certain Sacrifices and Efforts From Us
Namely, all life circumstances and situations require certain sacrifices and efforts from us. Meaning helps us clearly understand which demands are hidden in which situation and how to respond to them. Frankl believes that adequately responding to these demands is precisely the meaning of human existence.
Even when we fail at it, life always hides a certain meaning, even when it doesn’t look like it at first glance. If it sometimes seems to us that certain things that happen to us are meaningless, it is not because they do not make sense but because we cannot currently discover and see that meaning.
Therefore, we need to use the best means we have – our own conscience, and this will help us find meaning, whether through work, artistic expression, or some other way of creating in which we actively participate. Every minute has its meaning, but only if we take such an attitude allows us to see the meaning in everything.
Why Is It Important to Find the Meaning of Life?
People have always wondered what the meaning of life is, and it seems that nowadays, they are especially hungry for meaning, purpose, and the feeling that life is worth more to them than the pure sum of its parts. Fortunately, people are resourceful and manage to find endless ways to find meaning and potential sources of meaning. Meaning can be found in every event, and that is exactly what helps us progress.
Research has also shown that there is a high degree of overlap between experiencing happiness and meaning. Namely, participants who report one thing in research also report the other. Therefore, it could be assumed that there is a complex relationship between feelings of happiness and meaning.
However, social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues suggest that meeting basic needs fosters happiness, but not meaning. Conversely, connecting feelings of self through the past, present, and future fosters meaning, but not necessarily happiness.
Can the Meaning of Life Be Lost?
Despite all the search for meaning and purpose in one’s own life, one can also lose the meaning of life, which often happens when the demands of the environment are overloading the individual’s capacities. As Viktor Frankl points out, meaning helps us to clearly understand which demands are hidden in which situation and how to respond to them. When we do not know that, the meaning is lost, temporarily disappears, and dealing with similar situations becomes increasingly difficult.
How difficult it is to regain lost meaning is best known to those who have gone through the process. However, it is not impossible. Namely, some research has shown that the first step in regaining meaning is in a healthy lifestyle, hanging out with friends, staying in nature, supporting social networks, volunteering, etc.
Supporting the idea that seeking such qualities might be a good place to start searching for meaning, several studies have linked these indicators to the meaning of life.
Finally, the words of the aforementioned psychologist Jordan Peterson can best conclude this whole article: “It is better to have meaning in life than to have what you want, because you may not know what you want or what you really need. Meaning is something that reveals itself.
You can set the preconditions, you can follow the meaning once you discover it, but you cannot simply produce it by will alone. Having meaning means that you are in the right place at the right time, in the right balance between order and chaos, where everything is going as best as possible at a given moment. ”