Psychology says finding meaning in life comes down to 4 basic pillars

Image Credit: Shutterstock - By Dima Zel

Self-reflection is good but to what extent is it too much? At every point of our lives, we ask ourselves: Am I happy?

This question haunts us as we live our everyday lives, but psychology says that what people really desire for is finding meaning in life. 

In a study conducted by the Harris Poll Survey of American Happiness, only ⅓ of Americans report feelings of happiness. The others? Well, not so.

In an age when we are encouraged to consistently evaluate our position in the world, and therefore, how we feel about being in it, the search for happiness not only becomes tedious but discouraging.

Self-reflection becomes a forced part of our culture, telling us to reevaluate our otherwise perfect jobs, relationships, homes, and lives. And the results aren’t very flattering.

The Problem With Searching For Happiness

Actively looking out for happiness only leads to feelings of unhappiness, as a study in 2011 affirms.

In the study titled “Can seeking happiness make people unhappy? Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness”, this valued publication navigates through the ways we actively pursue happiness and how doing so only leads to self-defeat.

“The more people value happiness, the more likely they will feel disappointed,” the study says.

Even as life changes for the better, people continue to feel hopelessness and loneliness.

So what seems to be the problem?

The solution, as one psychologist puts it, is not to pursue happiness but meaning in life.

People who do so end up being more positive in life, acquiring better attitudes for everything they do—from pleasure to working.

While searching for meaning may be as big of a task as pining for happiness, researchers say that there are significant differences between the two.

Establishing meaning in life comes down to four basic steps:

1) Controlling Your Perception Of Life

The problem with looking for happiness is that sometimes we don’t find it.

We sit down and reflect. When we realize we are unhappy, we often retreat, defeated.

When a person strives for meaning, he or she instead looks beyond the current situation and looks at the bigger picture.

Life is filled with ups and downs, and allowing ourselves get riled up by the bumps in between moments of happiness only help create the feeling of despair in our lives.

Finding a way to seek meaning without focusing on whether or not you are happy in the moment allows you to find a solution that isn’t bound to time.

Instead, you look beyond what you feel, knowing fully well that what you feel now doesn’t define your entire existence.

2) Find Things Bigger Than Yourself

Look for things that are bigger than what you are and what you know. In two words: seek transcendence.

Transcendence doesn’t have to involve something spiritual or anything remotely religious.

Transcendence is allowing your sense of self to disappear, or better yet, blend into a bigger part of your reality.

Transcendence is experienced differently by various people but it’s often described as elation, a feeling of belonging to a greater thing.

To you, transcendence could be awe and speechlessness. To someone else, transcendence could be reflection and self-awareness.

You can evoke transcendence by placing yourself in situations that would juxtapose you and the world, allowing you to clearly experience a bigger reality other than your own.

3) Surround Yourself With Love

We often turn to the people around us for happiness, and with meaning, there isn’t much of a difference.

Often we feel as though we are alone, that our existence in the universe has no impact on the greater good.

While we might not be able to test our presence against the greater odds, there are ways to assure our sense of self through belonging. With family.

With friends. With loved ones. By surrounding yourself with people that love you, you are able to realize that your existence resounds with the people around you.

Of course, this is different from being popular because of the things you have or the things you believe in.

Deep connections go beyond actions and sometimes even thought. By establishing this kind of kinship with someone, we are able to relate with people outside ourselves and find meaning beyond what we do.

4) Creating A Purpose

Most people think their purpose in life is waiting to be found but that definition is problematic because it renders human agency useless.

A purpose isn’t your 9-5 grind either. It’s not defined by a pay check or a schedule or an urgency. Your purpose is defined by your joyful ability to give to others.

It’s not strange to find purpose in our jobs because we do contribute to society through what we do.

On the other hand, finding other channels through which we can affirm our sense of selves passionately will help us find direction in life.

The goal is to find meaning in things that aren’t tied to finite things. Jobs can end. Relationships can disappear. Money can fade away. What’s left when all else collapses is your sense of purpose, and no one can take that away from you.

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