What gives your life meaning? What do you find important in life and how do you act accordingly? Meaningfulness contributes to your enjoyment of life and to your mental health.
What is meaning (of life)?
Meaning is the way you give meaning to your existence. You literally feel a ‘reason’ for living. It is a search for who you are and what you want.
The search for meaning stems from the need to experience that your life is valuable – has meaning. Knowing what is meaningful to you and organising your life in a way that suits you can bring you feelings of happiness, self-fulfilment or well-being.
Questions about meaning and the meaning of life occur in all areas of your daily existence. Think about searching for meaning and significance at work, in relationships with friends or with your partner. Do you get satisfaction from your job? What does friendship with that one close or right not close friend mean? Feelings of meaning can also come from helping other people, fine contact with family members or a close relationship with your love partner.
Types of meaning
There are broadly two forms: implicit and explicit meaning.
1. Existential (explicit) meaning – Existentialism
Existential meaning is the question of the meaning of life. Why do I exist? What value does my life have? Who am I? These are big questions that you generally don’t think about on a daily basis. When you ask yourself these kinds of questions, it invites philosophising, because the answer is not straightforward. The answer will also change throughout your life.
2. Everyday (implicit) meaning
Everyday meaning is activities that give value to a moment or situation. You reflect on the meaning of what you do or what happens, such as celebrating your birthday, going out to dinner with your partner when you have been together for 10 years, but also attending a funeral of a loved one, or planting a birth tree for your baby.
Why is meaning important?
Meaningfulness can indirectly contribute to greater life satisfaction and improve your mental health. Indeed, meaningfulness appears to have a strong relationship with your life satisfaction, happiness and a positive outlook on daily life .
Reflecting regularly on what gives you meaning in life, what is meaningful to you and what makes you happy; it can all contribute to feeling better.
When you do things that feel meaningful to you, you feel good. You experience fulfilment. You feel free and connected to the world around you. That experience contributes to a healthy and happy life. Seeing the purpose of life makes you move and undertake things.
What does lack of meaning do to me?
Doing something you don’t like once in a while is unavoidable. If you structurally do things that make no sense to you, that don’t give you energy or that you simply don’t feel comfortable with, it will affect how you feel. You may feel less energetic, easily bored or experience the feeling of spending the day aimlessly. You may also potentially feel lonely – this is called existential loneliness. You feel lost, lacking a sense of purpose and not quite sure why your life matters.
Do the feelings persist for a long time or do they get stronger? Experiencing less (existential) meaning has direct links to psychological complaints such as depression, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and stress . Meditation, life questions and making conscious choices can help make life more meaningful and find more meaning.
How do I find meaning?
1. Finding meaning through life questions
Life questions can help you regain a sense of purpose in life. Life questions are questions that are about our existence. About the meaning of your life.
Examples of life questions:
- Who am I?
- What do I want in life?
- What do I think is important?
- Do I still like my work?
- Am I still happy in my relationship?
- What do I get out of bed for in the morning?
- What do I want to achieve in my life?
- Who are my real friends?
- I am not happy, but what do I want?
- With whom do I feel connected?
- Do I feel I am being lived?
On a conscious level, you may not dwell on these questions on a daily basis. Sometimes you can just think about them out of interest. It is also very common for the life stage of those in their twenties and thirties. Also, questions about existence can sometimes be accompanied by feelings of gloom, loneliness, demotivation, emptiness or the feeling of living on autopilot.
There are no bite-sized answers to life questions. However, it does help to consciously reflect on the questions. They contribute to your personal development and give more insight into what is important to you. The answers indicate what your life is about. Knowing where you want to go gives you strength. The strength to go on and fulfill your needs.
2. Finding meaning through conscious choices
Doing activities or spending time with others are good times to explore what has meaning for you. Consciously examine your feelings before, during or after an activity, asking yourself the following questions. These questions will help you become more aware of what you do or do not want to do.
Questions that help you make a conscious choice:
- How do I feel after this activity?
- Do I feel enthusiastic?
- Do I feel light, or heavy?
- Does it feel squishy? Do I feel embarrassed?
- Do I feel happy about the prospect?
- Do I get restless at the prospect?
3. More meaning through meditation
Meditation can also contribute to feelings of greater meaning. Research shows that meditating is associated with increased levels of meaningfulness and feelings of life satisfaction and happiness . Meditation teaches you to observe your thoughts from a distance. If successful, this can lead to feeling more relaxed.
In therapy, we look at exactly where you are stuck and what is important to you. An important part of this is exploring your values. Together, we look at questions like;
- What thinking patterns around existential questions are you struggling with?
- Do you no longer see the meaning of life clearly?
- What is important to you?
- What keeps you from living your life differently?
We also discuss what is holding you back. For example, how can you reduce strict living rules?
You will also experiment with undertaking things that are both valuable and exciting. Be aware that leading a meaningful life is not so much about leading a ‘nice or happy’ life. The very things you find valuable and important are often accompanied by difficult emotions. We make space for that.
 Crego, A., Yela, J. R., Gómez-Martínez, M. Á., & Karim, A. A. (2020). The contribution of meaningfulness and mindfulness to psychological well-being and mental health: A structural equation model. Journal of Happiness Studies, 21(8), 2827-2850.
 Glaw, X., Kable, A., Hazelton, M., & Inder, K. (2017). Meaning in life and meaning of life in mental health care: An integrative literature review. Issues in mental health nursing, 38(3), 243-252.