There are thousands of articles out there that guide you to success, wealth, and ultimate gratification. But when it comes to figuring out the meaning of life, it’s harder to find any material. Why?
We imagine the meaning of life as this mysterious and secret concept that takes a lifetime to discover.
Scholars and monks spend decades studying ancient texts and meditating, trying to understand what all of this actually means; why the universe gave us life and what we’re supposed to do with it.
With all of this gravity attached to the idea of the meaning of life, it’s nearly impossible to write an article about it without feeling like you haven’t given it the justice it needs.
But what issue worries us the most when it comes to the meaning of life? The possibility that our tiny lives are insignificant to the greater truths of meaning and purpose.
That everything we are doing is for naught; nothing we do matters, and therefore we do not matter at all.
We need to figure out this meaning. It gives us an anchor that keeps us grounded; it tethers us to a point that we can look back on and say, “Everything I do has a purpose.”
Without this meaning, it can be easy to get lost in the struggle of it all—we need this meaning more than anything else.
Those who say that they find their life to be meaningful are generally happier, friendlier, and healthier people, both mentally and physically.
But that’s the million-dollar question: how do you turn your life into one that you find to be meaningful?
Researchers from University of Missouri believe that they have found the answer. You don’t need to take a year-long sabbatical and join the Buddhist monks in the mountains of China.
It’s not about discovering ancient secrets and hidden truths unavailable to the greater public, nor is it about giving up all the material desires and needs in your life.
It’s about waking up to yourself, and realizing that the meaning you are searching for is probably already inside of you, just waiting for recognition.
The Key Towards Finding Meaning: Don’t Look, Just Enjoy
Lead researcher from the study, Laura King, recently delivered a talk about the science of meaning, correcting all the popular myths about meaning and happiness.
From her study, King found that the only thing you have to do to turn your life into one that you find meaningful is to pause.
No giant life changes need to happen, such as throwing away all your possessions or quitting your job; these things just aren’t sustainable in the modern world. Instead, you simply need to take a moment—however long it might be—to recognize your life and all you have experienced.
What does this mean?
It means we must appreciate the everyday things that we go through, and pull out meaning from these experiences.
Things like chatting with your friends, bonding with neighbors, helping out in your community—these things increase your social connections, and the higher your social connections, the less likely you are to feel lost and that your life has no meaning.
You also have to think about patterns: daily habits and rituals keep your life feeling centered and balanced. You give yourself something to wake up to everyday, and you put markers on your day that you can count on yourself to follow.
We find a simple kind of comfort in these little rituals that we do for ourselves, because it gives us a sense of normalcy in our lives.
And the most important point: stop thinking.
According to King, “There’s no literature showing that thinking super hard about meaning in life leads to more meaning. Searching for meaning is negatively related to the experience of meaning.”
And that makes sense; it’s the same as love. You never have to convince yourself that you love your partner, your family, and your friends. One day you just wake up and you realize that you love them, no questions asked.
The meaning of life isn’t something that you need to think about—it’s something that you create for yourself organically.
Like a Chinese finger trap, if you continue to struggle to figure it out, it will continue to elude you. Just relax and let it happen. According to King, “People don’t need to know how to make their lives meaningful. They need to know that they already are.”
If you are the type of person who constantly asks, “What am I doing with my life? Where is my meaning?”, then it might be time to give it a break. Just sit down, breathe, and live your life.
Build social connections that you want to build and respect yourself enough to stick to a couple of daily habits. Over time, you’ll see that your life is much more meaningful once you settle down and just live.
How to create positive habits that give you meaning
Creating positive habits is the best way to create a meaningful life.
Because your focus turns to action rather than overthinking about your life purpose.
As the Dalai Lama said:
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” – Dalai Lama
The problem is, when you’re stuck in an overthinking mode, it can be difficult to create those habits.
So here’s how to develop good habits and make them stick:
1) Start ridiculously small
Most of us want to create big change as quickly as possible. We want to go from zero gym sessions to working out every single day.
The problem with this, of course, is that kind of movement takes an enormous amount of willpower.
The solution is to start small so that it requires little amounts of willpower.
For example, instead of doing 50 push ups, do 5.
Never increase the amount until it becomes a natural part of who you are. Once it does, you’ve created meaning in your life through action.
2) Have clear intentions
If you’re serious about adopting your new habit, vague goals like “I’ll hit the gym 4 times a week” won’t help you out.
Research has shown that you’ll be more successful if you’ve decided specifically when and where the behavior is going to take place.
3) Use habit stacking
This involves linking your new habit to an already existing habit: “After/Before (established habit), I will (new habit)”.
By consistently doing your new habit after an ordinary habit, the routine will stick more easily.
4) Finally, celebrate your small wins
When you actually complete your habit for the day, pat yourself on the back.
Each time you reward yourself for doing what you set out to do, you activate the reward circuitry in your brain, no matter how small the achievement is.
This helps release key neurotransmitters in the brain that help you experience feelings of achievement and pride.
So, what habits should you adopt?
There are many ways to create more meaning and joy in life.
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson suggests that the key to building more meaning and positive in your life is creating “positivity points” over time.
Here are a few ideas:
1) Pause and notice life’s small pleasures
Pay conscious attention to even the smallest moments of joy. Whether it’s noticing the warm water hitting your body in the shower, or the first flowers of spring, appreciating the small things in life build positivity and purpose.
In terms of making this is a habit, it could involve appreciating your shower in the morning, and then you can slowly work up to more things from there.
2) Rely on and help other people
Build social connections. According to the longest Harvard study ever conducted, the key to happiness is solid relationships.
Make an effort with your friends and family. Help them out when you can and then you’ll be able to rely on them when you’re in need of help.
To build this into your weekly routine, you could make an effort to meet up with at least one close friend and one family member each week for coffee.
3) Continue to learn
Practice something new at home or at work. Learn to dance, play tennis, brew coffee. Learn a new topic online.
These are great ways to expand your mind and give yourself a purpose.
You may have heard it before, but exercise releases “happy hormones” that reduce stress. Exercise is an awesome way to keep fit and lengthen your life span.
Harvard Health says that aerobic exercise is key for your head, just as it is for your heart:
“Regular aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. It’s a common experience among endurance athletes and has been verified in clinical trials that have successfully used exercise to treat anxiety disorders and clinical depression. If athletes and patients can derive psychological benefits from exercise, so can you.”
5) Just breathe
Simply engaging in a breathing practice can help you calm down.
Rapid, erratic breathing is a common result of stress. But slow, deep, regular breathing is a sign of relaxation.
If you learn to control your breathing to mimic relaxation, the effect will be relaxing. Here’s how to do deep breathing:
1) Breathe in slowly an deeply, while focusing on your stomach going up and down.
2) Hold your breathe for 4 seconds.
3) Exhale, thinking about how relaxing it is, for 6 seconds.
4) Repeat this sequence 5 to 10 times, focusing on breathing slowly and deeply.
This is a great way to calm yourself down, and can help you to stop thinking so much and instead focus on the here and now:
As Paul Kurtz said:
“The meaning of life is not to be discovered only after death in some hidden, mysterious realm; on the contrary, it can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can.”
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