What on earth is meaning and how does it contribute to happiness? It’s a great question, which many people have tacked the task in defining it.
I believe the definition of meaning is different for everyone. Honestly, though, if the definition does not resonate with you, then even MEANING wouldn’t feel meaningful… right?
Google Dictionary notes that it can be implying significance or showing a worthwhile quality and sense of purpose. But how can this be achieved and why is it being connected with happiness?
I guess you’ll have to continue to read to find out!
Posted: June 5th, 2021
Disclaimer: Although I am a mental health professional, all information and reflections are meant for educational purposes only. If you plan to make changes in your life, it may be worth consulting with loved ones and/or your wellness team. Also, this post may contain affiliate links that will connect you with some pretty cool products and when making a purchase through those links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Martin Seligman is the man responsible for the PERMA model and the growth of Positive Psychology. He has multiple books published, but the one I’ve been reading is Flourish. I wouldn’t say Flourish is a light read, as it talks a lot about research, but definitely a cool perspective!
That being said, let me mention more about the PERMA model. What does it stand for?
The goal of Positive Psychology is for people to “Flourish” and the way to do this is foster a little of each of the above elements. Apparently, having fulfillment in each of these areas leads to lower risk of depression and higher life satisfaction (Rashid & Seligman, 2019). Now let’s get more specific to Meaning.
Let’s look further into meaning and how it influences our mood.
In the book Flourish, the author defines meaning as “belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self.” You can both FEEL meaning and ADD meaning for others.
Another way of looking at it… Connecting to your larger goals!
The first thing that may have come to mind is religion, which can add meaning for so many. This is not the only way to serve something greater than yourself. Social justice, volunteering, advocacy, educating, etc.
For me? I find the most meaning I have in my life is providing help to others. The most meaningful compliment I can ever hear is that I brought joy into another’s life, even for the briefest moment.
So, what is meaningful for you? Do you currently feel a part of a movement or sense of purpose?
If so, wonderful! Keep reading to learn how to build on this. If not, I am so glad you have come across this post!
How to Add Meaning
If you ever have fallen into the habit of sacrificing your needs to attend to other responsibilities, you are NOT alone. I have sacrificed sleep, self-care, meals, alone time, relaxation… you name it, I’ve probably put it to the side.
I am not saying it is time to throw your responsibilities to the side, because I recognize that our time can truly be limited! But… lacking meaningful activities can contribute to misery. Being an authentic version of yourself includes doing things that resonate with your values and desires.
So here comes the suggestion you likely already assumed was coming… it is time to schedule and prioritize things that are meaningful for you!
If you are struggling to identify what activities those might be, definitely read the next point!
There is evidence that if we use our natural strengths, we live more fulfilling and happier lives.
How is this possible? Welp, if you can find ways to use one or more of your character strengths regularly, you have a chance of improved mood.
It turns out my top strengths are Love, Perspective, Humour, Creativity and Curiosity.
Identifying your strengths and adding them to your life will also help build meaning!
Giving your time and sharing your strengths with others is also an essential piece of adding meaning. Even if you do not spend time in person, if you are contributing to a cause in another way, huge kudos.
Being a part of something outside of yourself is a way to find more meaning.
What are some options?
– Find a cause that resonates with you.
– Share your talents in creative ways.
– Join a community group that matches your values and strengths.
– Do activities that give you a sense of purpose that also help others.
– Offer to educate others about something you excel at.
– Invention or innovation.
– Spiritual and philosophical experiences.
– A career that feels like a “calling” especially if it helps the world in some way.
If you are struggling to find what exactly gives you purpose, this is a great option.
Consider writing a letter to yourself. In this letter, write about how YOU would like to be remembered. What were your contributions to your surroundings? What have you achieved that made you proud? Who are the people who mean the world to you?
This is also a great way to see what goals you would like to accomplish. So many insights can be gained!
Here is where things may become particularly tricky. This positive psychology exercise includes creating a new perspective on memories that remain open wounds or still bring forward negative emotions.
Utilize relaxation/mindfulness techniques before you consider negative memories that still influence your life. See if you can look at things in another way or find ways they have added to your life with lessons or positive qualities you’ve gained from the experience. Write them out or discuss them with a trusted loved one.
Please note, not ALL memories should be processed on your own. Contact a mental health professional if you would like to explore traumatic memories. Also, do not consider this exercise if you are currently struggling with moderate to severe mental illness.
Changing to a brighter or more meaningful perspective regarding life lessons is not always possible in a bad headspace or when easily triggered.
Meaning is so complimentary for our day-to-day lives. We can add so much happiness when we are living authentically and feel we are contributing to the greater good… no matter how big or how small.
Rashid, T. & Seligman, M. (2019) Positive psychotherapy. In D. Wedding & R.J. Corsini (Eds.), Current Psychotherapies (11th ed.) 481-526. Cengage.
Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of Happiness and Well-being. Atria Paperback.