Avicii was one of the world’s most successful DJs who took his life at the young age of 28. His family released a statement stating:
“He really struggled with thoughts about meaning, life, happiness. He could not go on any longer. He wanted to find peace.”
The drive to find meaning in life is a fundamental aspect of human nature. The human brain cannot sustain purposeless living. But how do we bring meaning to what would otherwise be inchoate experiences and events?
5 Psychological Factors for a Meaningful Life.
- Purpose. Purpose is the chronic pursuit of higher meaning. In other words, we need to feel our past and present behaviors are moving toward a bigger, better, and more rewarding future. Having purpose buffers the uncertainty of the future by providing meaning in our day to day pursuits.
- Control. We want to feel we have control over our own destiny, to be the author to our own book, and to believe we are making difference. Therefore, we need to interpret events in a way that support the belief that we have control over outcomes. We simply need to feel capable of bringing out our own destiny.
- Value. Having purpose alone is not enough for meaning. We also desire to live a life that has value. We want to view our actions as having value, or as being morally and socially good/justified.
- Belonging. We are largely social creatures. Belonging is our desire to be viewed favorably by others. We simply want to feel good about ourselves, that they are worthy of others’ attention and affections. view one’s own traits and abilities favorably and to elicit positive recognition from others.
- Continuity & Coherence. Lastly, meaning is process that connects the dots between our past, present and future. Whereas happiness is a positive feeling in the present, meaning seams our personal history, current activities, and future identities and goals into an integrated sequence that unfolds gracefully over time. In other words, we need to craft our story where the present is a product of our past events and is a springboard for future toward which we are striving.
8 Practical & Scientifically Proven Ways to Cultivate Meaning NOW
1) Connecting with other people.
Not referring to Facebook friends, Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections but rather genuine social interaction. Yes, this means getting outside the house and away from technology for minute. Grab a coffee with a friend, cook dinner with the family, call an old friend from college to share a memory…
2) Help others.
People grossly underestimate the payoff of helping others. Helping others is an easy and powerful way to bring about meaning to your life. Try volunteering time to a social cause, maybe donate clothes you don’t wear, or share your knowledge, expertise, and talents with someone seeking to learn. Remember we all have something special to share.
3) Health & Prolonging your life.
Take actions that lead to extending your life. The most obvious are exercising and staying active. Maybe go for a run, take a walk during work break, or play a sport. Sleep is another underestimated activity that links to longevity. Also, simple self-help and self-care routines like massages, psychologists, health coaches, facials, etc.
4) Have Sex & Creating Offspring.
Ask anyone that has kids what they are most proud of and they will likely name their kids. Raising kids is hard and stressful but the payout is pure meaning. While kids are not for everyone, sex is proven way to validate our existence. Have fun!
5) Meaningful Work.
People underestimate the power of purposeful work. We spend more time at work then another place on earth. Identify work that resonates with your values. Do you feel you are contributing, learning, growing, and part of broader team effort of delivering? Great workplaces have leadership and processes to cultivate your meaning.
Be apart of something. Beyond work there a various ways to foster relationships such joining a local meet-up groups, a recreational sports team, or perhaps coach your kids soccer team, local chess club? or run group. Be a team player, uphold their values and experience the meaning of belonging.
7) Competing and aggressing against enemies.
Winning and surviving is deeply rooted in our DNA — “survival of the fittest”. Not saying go pick fights with enemies or tell someone off. Rather the goal is to find ways to validate yourself, your skills, talents and passions to make yourself feel special and valuable. For example, we can harness our competitive spirits in sports games, competitions at work, or standing up for cause you believe in.
8) Remove Things that Rob you of Meaning.
Removing things that prevent you from having a meaningful life is just as important if not more important than actually doing things that actually contribute to a meaningful life. It’s like trying to win a basketball game by just playing offense without defense — you will never win. Some key meaning robbing things include:
- people that drain you or constantly bring you down,
- work that you are not passionate about or feel that you are contributing,
- excessive social media use that highlights peoples successes and not their struggles.
- Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological bulletin.
- Baumeister, R. F., & Landau, M. J. (2018). Finding the meaning of meaning: Emerging insights on four grand questions. Review of General Psychology.
- Lambert, N. M., Stillman, T. F., Hicks, J. A., Kamble, S., Baumeister, R. F., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). To belong is to matter: Sense of belonging enhances meaning in life. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
- Van Tongeren, D. R., Green, J. D., Davis, D. E., Hook, J. N., & Hulsey, T. L. (2016). Prosociality enhances meaning in life. The Journal of Positive Psychology.