How to find meaning in life. It’s a subject which probably deserves more than a five-minute read…
But if you are constantly wondering what the answer to life is, there are a few things you can do to at least put yourself on a path where you may find the answer.
Understanding the difference between meaning, purpose and passion is also a good way to identify what is and is not aligned with yourself.
Meaning in life is the things that make you feel that what you are doing is worthwhile, and they also give you a sense of fulfilment.
Purpose indicates what you are here to do in life.
Passion is the thing you do that makes you experience bliss and enjoy every single moment without having to think about it.
If you can find a way to combine the three, then you can fulfill your purpose with meaningful actions that fill you with bliss.
So how to go about finding these answers?
Let’s start off with the big question which everyone wants to know the answer to:
What is the meaning of life?
“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell
Okay. Perhaps we took too large a mouthful to start with.
But seriously, learning how to find purpose in life is a deeply personal journey. What works for one person will not often work for someone else.
That’s why it is a good idea to re-frame the question slightly:
What is MY purpose in life?
By making your questions about life more personal – not the meaning of all life and why it exists, but the meaning you can find in and attach to your own life – you are much more like to get, firstly, any kind of answer.
Secondly, you are much more likely to find an answer that is going to be useful to you.
How to figure out what to do with your life
The first step in this exercise can be easy – or it can be hard. Some people find this kind of introspection more challenging than others!
The key thing is to to get outside of your routine. Whether that’s in your head-space or in the physical space is down to you, ideally it would be both:
- 1. Mental journey: for some people, taking a step back and thinking about their deeper motivations and what they really want can be enough to start them on the right path.
- 2. Physical journey: for other people, physically going somewhere might be necessary. You might want to consider going backpacking – many people use trips such as this as a chance to see more of the world, to spark more thoughts and ideas internally.
- 3. Spiritual journey: others go on a journey through a process like meditation or yoga. Some go even further – on a spiritual quest to retreats specifically designed for this like the Spirit Vine Center. The ancient South American healing brew ayahuasca has been used for this kind of purpose for centuries.
Key things to bear in mind
There are two things which many philosophers agree can help you remove the feeling of being overwhelmed from deep questions like the meaning of life:
1) Don’t force it – concentrate on the little things
Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who should perhaps be better known as a philosopher, once said:
“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”
When you don’t know what to do with your life, a natural reaction is to constantly worry about it.
Sadly, if there’s one thing which is guaranteed to make it feel like you are never going to find meaning in life, it is to constantly put pressure on yourself to do so.
It is much the same as you might feel when you have a major task to perform at work:
If you look at the overarching goal, it can seem impossible. How could one person ever be able to accomplish that?
But if you break it down into lots of manageable smaller tasks, it suddenly starts to seem possible. Don’t worry about the overall meaning. Try to think about finding meaning in the little things.
2) Don’t look for something abstract in the long term
Making your life goal something like “happiness” or “success” is only ever going to lead to disappointment.
What is “success” to you? How do you define “happiness”?
They are too big. Too ephemeral. Too abstract.
Instead, think about the moment you are living in right now. Think about the feelings you are experiencing and really let yourself appreciate them. They matter too.
The important questions to ask yourself
However you choose to take your journey, the important questions to ask yourself when it comes to the purpose of life are:
1) What do you love to do the most?
It can be easy to let yourself be defined by roles which have been placed upon you by others.
You will be somebody’s child. You may be somebody’s parent. You might be forced into certain roles by your job, your friends or your family – no matter how well-meaning they are.
Society may also place you in a defined role. Society may tell you that the things you love doing most have no value.
It can be almost impossible to separate the real you and what you love from what other people and society gently or overtly pressure you to love and hate.
This can be a matter of gut instinct. So when it comes to almost any decision, why not listen to what your intuition is telling you to do?
In line with one of our two key points above, you’ll be concentrating on the little things.
2) What are you really good at?
The question “what is my purpose in life” has such massive connotations that it can be just too big to handle.
Again, in line with our points above, we don’t want to be too abstract or let things get too out of hand.
So, what are you good at?
Not the things that your job values or which society tells you have value. What are you good at?
Are you good at speaking with people? Are you naturally caring, artistic or good at certain physical tasks or sports?
Finding a purpose which feels satisfying will be all the easier if you play to your strengths.
3) What could you be good at?
You’ve thought about who you currently are as a person. Now, who and what could you be if you wanted to? Where could your future lead?
Again, don’t be abstract. And don’t set yourself a massive hill to climb (or, if you do, make sure you set a lot of smaller checkpoints along the way).
If you don’t know the answer right now, don’t worry. Remember the old Baz Lurhman tune “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”?
It’s surprisingly insightful and well worth a listen if you haven’t for a while. It was actually written by an American journalist named Mary Schmich as a pretend commencement speech.
Check out this gem of philosophical advice from her work:
“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life… The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”
What is the answer to life?
You should see one thing in common in all of the above questions.
Do you see it? The real answer to life is there…
If you take a step back and think about how to find meaning in life, you will probably realize – hopefully sooner rather than later – that the only meaning in life, comes from within.
The meaning in life is you.
“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste of time to be asking a question when you are the answer.” – Joseph Campbell