4 Factors that Make Life Meaningful

“Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” – Hans Christian Anderson

A meaningful life bestows us with a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.  One does not just stumble upon a meaningful life… it is created through diligent work, habits, and chosen direction.  While it takes effort and drive to create a meaningful life, the result is inner contentment and satisfaction that cannot be measured.

When our lives feel devoid of meaning, there is often an accompanying sense of emptiness, listlessness, and lack of motivation.  The willingness to create a life rich with meaning is a choice that only you can make.  You must make the personal decision if you are willing to commit yourself to building a life that you can feel proud of and rewarded by.

Factors that Make Life Meaningful

Research by Baumeister and Vohs (2002) suggests four factors that, upon fulfillment, lead to an increased sense of meaning in life:

(1) Purpose

Finding one’s purpose is a personal process that can only be discovered through tapping into your underlying motivations and drives.  Examine the things, events, and people in your life that provide you with a sense of meaning and fulfillment.  Perhaps the work that you do gives you a great sense of satisfaction, or maybe your relationship or family provide you with a strong sense of identity and meaning.  Whatever your purpose is, you can choose to discover it through identifying your true values and actively directing your intentions, thoughts, and behaviors to live according to those values.

(2) Values

Values provide us with a sort of “moral compass” that directs our thoughts and behaviors.  When something feels “not quite right” to us, it is often because some part of what is occurring violates a deeply held value.  We often develop our values based in our cultural beliefs/identities, religions, philosophies, and families.  Consider the origin of your most treasured values and actively work towards making sure your thoughts and deeds are aligned with those values.  Recognize that we all make mistakes from time to time… thinking, saying, or doing things that violate our values.  This does not make you “bad” when this happens.  The important thing is that you recognize this dissonance and correct any missteps.

(3) Efficacy

When you feel a strong self of self-efficacy (i.e., believing in your own competence), you feel an increased sense of control over your life and a stronger sense of meaning.  Research by Baumeister and Vohs (2002) indicates that the meaning of life is significantly reduced with a weak sense of self-efficacy.  Reflect upon the situations from the past and present when you have felt competent and able to carry out a task in a way that made you feel proud.  What was it about that situation that made you feel especially competent and confident?  How can you build on those experiences and actively seek out new experiences and situations where you can further cultivate and refine your natural abilities?

(4) Self-worth

Within all of us is a deep desire to feel like good and worthwhile individuals.  Without this sense of self-worth, meaning in life is significantly diminished.  You can strengthen your own sense of self-worth through examining what thoughts and behaviors you choose and how they serve to make you feel more or less worthwhile.  When most of us engage in a behavior that we feel ashamed of, the result is a weakened sense of self-worth.  For many people, attaching themselves to a worthy cause that they believe in and that is aligned with their most cherished values is an excellent way to increase self-worth.  No matter what, recognize that there is an intrinsic worth to the value of all human beings, including those who feel the least “worthy” of all.

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The meaning of life (in under 300 words). (2011, August 25). Retrieved from http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/08/the-meaning-of-life-in-under-300-words.php

Featured image: Joy.Youth.Sky.Blue.Sun.Shine.Sunshine.Happiness. by irina / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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