The word “meaning” scares some us as we think meaning belongs to only certain groups of individuals such as those who are spiritual or religious or even just philosophers. It sounds like a very sophisticated phrase which is associated with knowing a lot about everything. However, meaning is for all. Everyone experiences meaning; some more, some less.
We tend to think that meaning is something out of reach. On the contrary, meaning is everywhere. We just need to recognise it and create more by knowing what exactly adds meaning to our lives. Meaning is not something that we either have or don’t have. It’s not a “thing” that we can grasp. Meaning is an experience. Some of us also think that meaning is static. But it actually changes throughout life. What gives our lives meaning at one point may not be that worthwhile later.
Purpose is one thing that is perceived as the most relevant construct when it comes to meaning. Purpose is, indeed, an important variable closely associated with meaning; but meaning is not only about purpose, it’s also about understanding how we relate to others and the world around us and how we make sense of it. It’s about taking responsibility of our behaviours, it’s about following our values, making choices, and about continuous personal growth. It is also about embracing the unknown and the pain: asking ourselves what we could have done differently or better.
There is no single way to find meaning; there are many ways you can experience meaning in your life. Some people may find more meaning in their jobs, some in their families. Some people attach a lot of importance to “things”; they have a materialistic and hedonistic perspective. Some find more meaning in helping others and thinking about something bigger than themselves. But most of us normally have multiple meanings; that is, we find meaning in many different things. However, research shows that taking a materialistic stance is associated with lower wellbeing. We improve our mental and physical health as we focus on social meaning and societal meaning as well as personal meaning.
We should also be aware of the fact that meaninglessness is not the opposite of meaningfulness. We can have both at the same time. The art of living is to experience and handle both at the same time. We should accept the fact that there is uncertainty in life, that we have limitations, weaknesses, flaws, and maybe limited options. We can have a meaningful life despite meaninglessness. Living a meaningful life is finding a balance between things we can and cannot control.