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What Do I Need To Know About Life Insurance – ” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks that addresses questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his new podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.
Do you want to live in a controlled and decisive way? To always know why you do what you do? There is a simple way to make your dreams come true: Go find the meaning of life!
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People who believe they know the meaning of their lives enjoy greater well-being than those who do not. One 2019 study found that agreeing with the statement “I have a life philosophy that helps me understand who I am” was associated with fewer depressive symptoms and higher positive affect.
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You are lucky if you were already born knowing what the meaning of your life is. For the rest of us, the search can be difficult and frustrating. Philosophy is often unhelpful, offering abstract ideas such as Aristotle’s human function or Kant’s “highest good” that are difficult to understand, let alone implement.
Throwing up your hands and concluding that the question of the meaning of life is simply unanswerable – at least for you – is an easy answer. However, you can manage your search for meaning by breaking it down into three dimensions and then considering each one.
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Many psychologists call knowing the meaning of your life “presence” and the desire to find it “searching”. They are not mutually exclusive: You may or may not search whether you have a sense of purpose or not. Some people with low presence don’t bother looking – they’re “stuck”. Some are highly present but continue to search – we can call them “seekers”.
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Being present is highly correlated with well-being, but searching seems to have no bearing on it—and overthinking the meaning of life could even lead to dissatisfaction. Consider how the paradox of choice causes people to become dissatisfied when they are given too many choices in consumer goods. Or in love, for that matter: A 2009 study in the journal
Tells the whole story in its title: “More choices lead to more searching and worse chances when finding romantic partners online.” Although no study I’ve seen has specifically examined this question, we can assume that peripatetic meaning seekers would suffer in a similar way .
If you haven’t found a sense of purpose yet, how do you look for it without looking too hard? The answer is to take a vast philosophical question and make it manageable. You can do this most effectively—and without obsessing too much—by evaluating your life along the three dimensions that psychologists Frank Martela and Michael F. Steger defined in
You can think of these three dimensions as macronutrients: the elements we need for a balanced and healthy sense of meaning in life. They may already be part of your spiritual diet. For example, Christians believe that life is important because God loves us; that our purpose is to love and serve God and other people; and that God has a coherent plan for our lives, whether we realize it or not.
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Hear Arthur C. Brooks and Lori Gottlieb explore the key components of happiness—pleasure, joy, and contentment in
Balancing your macronutrients doesn’t require traditional religion—many secular and even atheist philosophies offer a way to cultivate them while focusing on ethical and moral behavior.
If you want to start the process of discovering your life’s meaning—or adjust a search that’s gone a little off course—I recommend following three steps.
If you told me you’ve just changed your eating habits and you’re not feeling well, I’d ask about your macronutrient profile: whether you’re eating enough fat, protein, and carbohydrates—and in the right balance. Likewise, feeling like your life is meaningless should raise the question of whether you lack coherence, purpose, or meaning. Ask yourself these questions:
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If you find a deficit in a certain area of importance, look for it in a productive way. Fortunately, you don’t have to figure out how to do this yourself – philosophical and religious traditions have been doing it for millennia. One of the best organized strategies comes from the Hindu concept of ashram, or the four stages of a balanced life. She is the third
— literally “going to the forest” in Sanskrit — which ideally begins around age 50 and involves stepping back from the demands of everyday life and focusing more on the deep meaning of life through reflection, meditation and study. You can do this at any stage of life by devoting time each day to searching. For some, this means meditation or prayer. For others, it requires studying texts or working with masters. It may also include therapy. But you have to approach it like any other important goal – getting the job done.
Your search for meaning will be counterproductive if it hinders your happiness. To make sure you’re in the Goldilocks zone, you can take a survey that tells you your level of presence and search and compare your score to others on the University of Pennsylvania’s Authentic Happiness Program website. If you find that your presence is fine, but you are a hyperactive seeker, this is a signal to enjoy the sources of meaning you already have, as opposed to constantly searching for new ones. In this situation, I sometimes offer what I call the “Dorothy Strategy,” based on Dorothy’s famous line from
: “If I ever go to seek my heart’s desire again, I will look no further than my own backyard; because if it’s not there, I never lost it.” If you feel lost in your search for meaning, cut yourself some slack and get back to basics.
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All of this advice rests on one very strong assumption – that life actually has meaning. Not everyone agrees. Some have built entire schools of thought on the assumption that life is inherently meaningless and that we can only be truly free when we accept this truth. “If we believe in nothing, if nothing has meaning and if we can profess no values,” wrote the philosopher Albert Camus
Each of us must decide whether we believe it. I can’t say for sure; it is, as we say in my business, an “untestable hypothesis.” The paradox of the untestable hypothesis is that even as we search, we can never be sure that we have found what is real and true. But one thing’s for sure: We won’t find Just the fact that you found this news today means you’re probably saying, “I need a miracle in my life!” I get it. We all need miracles in our lives from time to time. The decision to make now is to choose to either sit back and wait for a miracle or take action to create that miracle.
If you want to know how to make a miracle right now, overnight or instantly, so be it. The advice I’m about to share may or may not deliver on your timeline. Still, taking just a few minutes to read this post can give you the hope and patience you need to stay strong while your miracle is on its way.
This post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, nor should it be used to diagnose or treat medical conditions; if you need professional or spiritual help, seek it. This post also contains affiliate links with recommended resources from which B&C may receive a small fee, as well as non-affiliate links. Learn more
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When we bring up the topic of miracles in the B&C Facebook community, the number of believers in miracles is always high (I’d say 99% or more) and we always hear from many people who say, “I need a miracle now.”
When life is hard… hard beyond what we think we can handle on our own… we reach for miracles. Please…
Each of us may have a different view of what constitutes a miracle. To me, a miracle requires God’s intervention to cause something that I cannot manifest without help.
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I know that I have experienced miracles in my life that I have recognized, and I suspect that there have been others that I have not yet noticed that I have still benefited from.
I did some pretty stupid things when I was younger and somehow escaped harm. I was also pretty low…desperately sad and broken and lonely…and somehow the pain always eased even though I couldn’t see a way up and out of it.
I understood that I can participate in miracles… for myself and
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