When Rebecca and I work with caregivers and therapists, we often find that when they bring up meaning in life as an aspect of happiness that their eyes really light up. Just last month, as we spoke to the staff of Maryland’s Child Advocacy Center, we knew we were seeing deeply committed people whose character strengths included kindness, compassion and a desire for justice. Feeling as if they made a difference energized these folks, who clearly had a deep sense that their lives were mission-driven. One child worker told of racing across a field to catch up to a run-away child, her heart beating in her chest and mud covering her shoes.
Although having a life full of purpose and meaning may not be so dramatic all of the time, it’s often a well of deep and authentic happiness that can bring tremendous satisfaction and joy. One of our positive psychology heroes, Dr. Michael Steger, has done groundbreaking work in this area. He developed a short Meaning in Life Questionnaire which we highly recommend taking. which we highly recommend taking. This quick and interesting survey measures how much we are searching for meaning and how much meaning we feel we have in our lives at this moment.
Not surprisingly, it appears that experiencing meaning and purpose contributes significantly to life satisfaction, health, and wellbeing, to more positive emotions, higher levels of optimism, better self-esteem, fewer psychological problems, and lower mortality.
If you want to experience more of a sense of meaning and purpose, one of the first steps is to figure out what is important to you, what you feel passionate about and what energizes you. For some people, like our friends the child protection workers, what gives you meaning might be making a difference one child at a time. For others it might be more mundane, like another one of the Child Advocacy staff, who disliked being on the frontlines and instead preferred behind the scenes making sure that everything functioned smoothly for the rest of her co-workers.
What do you find important and what gives your life meaning and purpose? Feel free to share on our Facebook page.