Photo of a path you might take on your journey to find meaning in your life.

3 Solid Ways to Find Meaning in Your Life

In Education, Wellness by Courtney ArcherLeave a Comment

If you are wondering how to find meaning in your life you have come to the right place. Thousands of people ask this question every day. At one point or another, everyone wants to know what the point of all their experiences, challenges, and life is.

You might have even found meaning once or twice during your lifetime and lost track of it. This is more common than you might think. As we develop and grow, so does our outlook on life.

Often difficult circumstances can lead to a loss of meaning. The more things that go wrong, the more difficult it can become to see the point of it all. Everyone experiences this from time to time.

Fortunately, renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl dedicated his life to the study of meaning and how people find it. He did not just study meaning in a university or clandestine research setting, he lived through a very personal test of where meaning can and cannot be found.

You see, Viktor Frankl was also a Jewish man who experienced and lived through multiple World War II holocaust camps. He began his study of meaning before he was interned, and then viewed his experience through the lens of what he already knew and still hoped to learn.

Spoiler alert: meaning can be found anywhere. However difficult, disheartening, traumatizing, or unpleasant the experience, meaning can be found. It can also be found in the gloriously beautiful, solidly mundane, and painstakingly ordinary.

So let’s discuss what Viktor Frankl learned and how you can apply it to your own life, shall we?

Photo of a path you might take on your journey to find meaning in your life.

How to Find Meaning in Your Life

As posited by Viktor Frankl, the three methods for finding meaning in your life are: creating & doing, experiencing & encountering, and cultivating your attitude toward suffering. You might already be doing each. The key is recognizing how, and making it intentional so you can learn from it.

While you cannot pursue meaning for meaning’s sake (just like you cannot just make yourself feel happy on command), you can still find meaning in your life. You just have to do it in kind of a round-about way.

We will explore each of the three methods for finding meaning. You do not need to utilize each one in order to find meaning in life, but you do need to use at least one. A combination of two or three is better, but not necessary.

For example, if you are not really suffering in your life currently, there is no need to go seek it out! However, if you have ever suffered, it may be helpful to apply some techniques to past painful experiences to bring some meaning to them.

Creating & doing, and experiencing & encountering are perfectly valid places to start though, and perhaps a little less daunting. Figuring out how to find meaning in your life sounds deep and complicated, but it does not have to be.

What Is Meaning?

In order to learn how to find meaning to life, we need to clarify what we mean by “meaning”. It has a lot to do with self-actualization, which also cannot be achieved simply by its pursuit.

Basically, none of the best things in life–happiness, meaning, self-actualization–are as straightforward as we might want. They are still achievable though and through much the same strategies. Increasing one often increases another!

We find meaning by living. As mentioned above, there are three parts of our lives that answer the question of how to find meaning. Creating & Doing, Experiencing & Encountering, and Suffering.

Each of these will be explored in depth below. However, first, we need to explore what kind of “meaning” we are pursuing.

Throughout the development of the mental health field, it has been theorized that the point of life is the pursuit of pleasure (hey there, Freud) and/or the pursuit of power (this was Adler’s theory, another father of modern psychology). Frankl suggested that these pursuits are secondary to the primary pursuit of meaning.

Your meaning in life is something that can only be defined by you, and only through the living of your life. It is not something you can think about for five minutes and come up with an answer. Really, it is something that is experienced more than defined.

However, that does not mean you cannot find it. It simply means that it is a process, rather than a one-shot trick. You can absolutely start today to make the changes you would like to happen.

Photo of an autumn path you could walk to ponder how to find meaning in your life.

3 Solid Ways to Find Meaning in Your Life

Find Meaning in Your Life by Creating & Doing

Perhaps the most straightforward method of finding meaning is to do and create. To put it simply, accomplishing things is a good way to gain a sense of purpose. This goes along with one of the three tenets of self-care: doing things that bring a sense of satisfaction (read more about that here in this article on self-care).

Doing so allows you to get to know yourself better. As you do things, you learn what things bring you the greatest sense of satisfaction, what things give you a sense of fulfillment, and what things simply help you get through your day.

Creativity, on the other hand, allows you to increase your sense of relief and wonder. Being able to contribute something creative to your life, no matter how big or small, is one of the best things you can do to increase your sense of fulfillment and belonging.

Productivity, while sometimes daunting, is a powerful motivator. Rather than waiting for motivation to move you forward, do something and move yourself forward.

Try This:

Choose three different things that you can accomplish today. Try to choose things from relatively different categories, like a chore, something creative, and something soothing. For me, this would be something along the lines of doing the dishes, knitting part of something, and reading a book.

Whatever it looks like for you, take a few seconds to jot down some notes about it in a notebook or on your phone. Write whatever you want about it, but at least answer these questions:

  • How much did you enjoy doing it?
  • How did you feel after you did it?
  • Did it give you any satisfaction or fulfillment?

Doing this will not immediately increase your meaning in life, but it will give you some of the information you need to do so. You gain a deeper sense of what activities you gravitate toward, and which ones bring you the most satisfaction.

Photo of another tree-lined path.

Find Meaning in Your Life by Experiencing & Encountering

Experiencing & encountering is a little more complicated than creating & doing. It is still an instrumental way to find meaning of life. Viktor Frankl explained it this way:

“The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something–such as goodness, truth and beauty–by experiencing nature and culture or, last but not least, by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness–by loving him.”

Mindfulness is a great tool to incorporate to increase your ability to experience & encounter without judgment. There are many ways to utilize mindfulness, including guided imagery and guided meditation. A simple mindful breathing practice is a great place to start, and you can find a decent 3-minute practice here.

You do not need any equipment to be mindful. All you need is yourself and a willingness to practice. Mindfulness is something that gets easier and more effective the more you do it. As you continue to practice, it will begin to influence the way you experience and encounter the rest of your life.

Try This:

Find a peaceful, quiet place to be outside. Close your eyes for a moment so that you can really concentrate on what you feel, smell, and hear. Take a few seconds to a couple of minutes here, just experiencing your surroundings through your senses.

Notice how the air feels against your skin, the ground against your feet or legs. If there are any scents present, what are they? What sounds do you hear around you–what sounds do you make as you move, as you breathe?

When you are ready to, open your eyes and observe your surroundings through sight. What colors, textures, shapes, and shadows do you see?

At the end of this mindful moment, take a few seconds to jot down your observations in a notepad or on your phone. Do so without judgment.

For example, write something like, “the flowers are a deep cerulean blue,” rather than, “the flowers are beautiful/ugly/my favorite color.” Just experience, observe, and record.

Photo of another tree-lined path.

Find Meaning in Your Life through Suffering

While the third method to find meaning in your life is not necessary, it is one you can rely on no matter what. Viktor Frankl said, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering.” If you have been alive for more than a minute, you have already learned a thing or two about the first half of that statement.

Life has plenty of suffering. Sometimes it is because of things that other people do, sometimes because of things that just happen, and sometimes it is because of our own choices.

Regardless of how suffering comes our way, it will always come. “To live is to suffer.” We know this. We might hate this, but we still know it.

However, we also know that life is not entirely made up of suffering and that there is good among the bad. That is why we first focused on creating & doing, and experiencing & encountering. Life has many good and wonderful things.

And it also has suffering. That is where the second half of the statement comes in. “To survive is to find meaning in the suffering.”

Remember that Frankl was a Jewish man in World War II. He lost his wife and unborn child to Nazi concentration camps and barely survived himself. If anyone learned and knew anything about hopeless situations, Frankl did.

This is not to say he suffered more than you–rather, it is to say that if he could survive so much and still find meaning, there has to be a way for you to do it too. He was not just a better person than you, or smarter, or luckier, or some other qualifying descriptor. He was a human and you are too, and you can also find meaning in your life.

How to Find Meaning in Suffering

Keep in mind that Frankl also said, “To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.” No need to go running off in pursuit of suffering. However, given that you are alive and that you are here reading this article, chances are great that you have already suffered or are in the process of suffering.

Therefore, let us ponder this quote from Frankl instead:

“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human acheivement. When we are no longer able to change a situation–just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer–we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Can you change your fate? Can you alleviate your suffering? If yes, then do so!

However, if you have found yourself in a situation that cannot be changed, the time has come to change yourself–to grow, to reach beyond where you have already been.

You can view your unchangeable situation with resentment or bitterness, or you can choose today to find the achievement in it.

For me, this looks like realizing I have successfully lived with Type 1 Diabetes for 19 years. Diabetes is not something I brought upon myself or that someone else gave me, but I have it nonetheless. I used to be quite bitter about it, and sometimes still have my moments.

But overall I am grateful to have made it this far. If my kidneys fail tomorrow, no one can take away the fact that I learned to live with a chronic disease for 19 years. Nothing can erase the lessons that living with a chronic disease since childhood has taught me.

What have you achieved despite–or even because of–the ways that you have suffered? What have you learned and how have you grown? Is there room yet to grow?

If so, then do. Suffering does not take away your human ability to change, grow, achieve, or find your meaning in life.

Photo of an old overgrown path.

In Conclusion

The three methods to find meaning in life are a great start for your personal search for meaning. Reading Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is also recommended, of course. Furthermore, finding a good therapist to use as a sounding board or to help with some problem solving is also a great idea.

If you are experiencing a sense of hopelessness or futility, please do seek professional help. Simply calling the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 can go a long way toward helping you feel less alone.

Please feel free to share ways that you have found meaning in your life in the comments below.

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