How to Find More Purpose and Meaning in Life
8th May 2019
Our quest and search for meaning has long been documented throughout history, appearing in ancient texts, passed down through story, traditions, religion, culture, art, music, poetry, our families, books and the media. For as long as we humans have walked this earth, we have sought to find greater purpose and meaning in our existence. For thousands of years, the question remains, is there a greater meaning and purpose to life or is the extent to which the human mind constitutes meaning and purpose subject to the individual?
In the book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl he writes, “Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on.”
When we lack purpose and meaning in our lives it can leave us feeling hopeless. Devoid of passion or zest for life. We live a time where we’re actively encouraged from an early age to follow our passions, find our purpose and discover our meaning, but, what if this pursuit is actually causing more harm than good? Anxiety and depression are commonplace within our society and the rise of people taking anti-depressants has increased over the last decade. Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that more than 7.3 million people were prescribed antidepressants in 2017-18 so why is that whilst we’re actively seeking our passions, striving for more purpose and meaning, that more people are reaching for medication as an additional source of support?
One idea could be, that we’re crushing ourselves under the weight of our own ideologies around what form purpose and meaning our lives should take and feel bad about ourselves when perhaps the reality doesn’t match up the expectation. Having the pressure to have just one thing you’re good at or one purpose in life can block any direction, drive or love of the very thing that we set out to achieve.
We reward our children for showing passion and excitement which reinforces the belief; follow the high. Yet, passion is not something that we can maintain consistently at the same level of intensity forever more. Yes, we can remain passionate to varying degrees about something, but at some point, that level of passion will reduce, we either have to slow down or take a break and when this happens in our culture we think that there’s something wrong with us, that there’s something wrong with our relationship, that we haven’t found that ‘one’ thing we’re searching for and we feel as though we’ve failed. We, in turn, internalize that perceived failure and reject our original passion or pursuit, claiming that we haven’t found our thing and feel a lack of purpose and meaning in our lives as a consequence. Should we not instead, teach our children about the ebbs and flows of passion and existing from a state of neutrality?
In the Renaissance period, the word ‘multipotentialite’ was a term coined to describe a societal success which depicted someone who was well educated and that excelled in a wide variety of subjects or fields. It was encouraged that a person should embrace as much knowledge and development as one could attain. For more information on multipotentialites, watch this Tedx talk on why some of us don’t have one true calling by Emilie Wapnick.
If life is what we assign meaning and purpose to then it’s an entirely subjective pursuit and perhaps within that, a wide range of meaning and purpose can be applied and experienced as we go throughout life.
If you find yourself experiencing a lack of meaning and purpose here are some things that you can do today:
- Write a list of all the things that you enjoy and what feel expansive.
- Sometimes knowing all the things that we don’t enjoy is just as useful as what we do enjoy, so if you find yourself struggling for what you do enjoy then start with what you don’t.
- What’s most important to you in life? Write a list of your non-negotiables (around 5 key values is generally a good number and easy to remember) and when faced with a decision ask yourself, is this aligned with my non-negotiables?
- Spend time connecting to your own thoughts and inner world – the world is a noisy place and it’s easy to get lost in a sea of thoughts of what our friends, family, colleagues and the media telling us what’s best for us.
- Create space to explore new hobbies and interests or perhaps just create space in which guidance can come in. When we create space in our lives it can be an uncomfortable process but keep leaning in and ask yourself, why does this feel uncomfortable? What feeling am I unwilling to feel?
- Think about what subjects you find yourself talking most to friends about, reading or searching on the internet.
- Think about the times where you have felt the happiest in your life, what were you doing? Who were you with? Where were you?
- Journal – when we journal we bridge our subconscious and conscious mind, so it’s a powerful tool for us to integrate parts of ourselves which we haven’t allowed ourselves to express or vocalize.
- Cultivate a deeper trust in your intuition and ability to make decisions for you around what fills your life with things that feel like a big exhale.
- Get out in nature – spending time outdoors is so important for us to process and integrate our inner worlds. Just like nature has seasons, we do too as humans.
This is a Guest Post by Francesca Elizabeth.
Francesca is a life and transformation coach in private practice at Brighter Spaces Guildford.