Month 10: Give Your Life Greater Meaning
This month in our Happiness Club, we’re studying the 10th and final ‘happiness key’ from Action for Happiness: finding meaning and purpose.
This month, we’re studying the 10th and final ‘happiness key’ from Action for Happiness: finding meaning and purpose. Studies of people who believe their lives ‘have meaning’ show big benefits for wellbeing and Martin Seligman – the founder of positive psychology – describes meaning as a vital component of happiness and wellbeing.
‘A simple way to describe having “meaning” in your life is that it’s about being part of something that we really believe in that is bigger than ourselves,’ says Vanessa King, positive psychology expert for Action for Happiness. ‘It helps us to answer the question: why are we here? It guides us in how
we choose to live our lives, what we strive for and provides
a framework for the goals we set. It can help make sense of what happens to us, provide a source of comfort and strength in tough times and helps us feel that we are not alone.’
Religious faith or other spiritual practices provide meaning for many, and research suggests people with faith tend to
have higher than average levels of happiness and wellbeing than those with no religious beliefs, says King. ‘But religion and spirituality are not the only sources of meaning. For many, relationships with others are a key source of meaning – as parents, friends and members of a community. One of the benefits with religious faith is the connection that comes from being part of a shared community of like-minded people,’ she adds.
Other important sources of meaning include finding your ‘calling’ – a job or activity that you’re passionate about – or having a deep connection to the natural world. ‘Meaning is very individual. No-one can tell us what gives meaning to our lives, we have to find out for ourselves,’ continues King. ‘We can each find our own way, but we should try to remember
the importance of meaning when making big choices about our families, jobs, lifestyles and priorities.’
Spirituality seems to be an almost fundamental and universal human characteristic, but one that is very personal and subjective. It is commonly defined as the feelings, thoughts and behaviours that both drive and arise from a ‘search for the sacred’.
Find your calling
There are many pathways to experiencing spirituality – both through religious faith (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc) or non-religious ways, for example, through nature, meditation or creative practices. The idea of ‘having a calling’ originally had religious connotations, but more recently, this word has also been applied in a non-religious context to refer to a particular approach to work.
Individuals who have a calling do work that is a source of both personal and social meaning. They find their work enjoyable for its own sake and feel that it makes a valuable contribution to society or improving the world in some way.
‘Callings are not restricted to high status or highly paid jobs but can be any role, at any level. The same occupation may be experienced as a calling by one person but not by another,’ explains King. ‘Unfortunately for too many people work is
a means to an end – to pay for necessities and support their families (‘a job’) or a route to achievement or prestige (‘a career’) rather than a source of fulfilment and meaning.’
The good news is that callings* are generally associated with benefits such as increased job and life satisfaction and health, regardless of level of income, education or type of occupation. People with a calling are less likely to suffer from stress and depression, or have conflict between work and non-work parts of their lives.
So where do we start if we feel we are not living a life of meaning? ‘Consciously think about which activities, people and beliefs bring you the strongest sense of purpose and
passion,’ says King. Then we can focus on making sure that we prioritise these things in our busy lives. ‘Often we’re so busy just hurtling ahead and end up exhausted at the end of each day without ever finding time to think about what really gives our lives meaning,’ says King. ‘But it’s never too soon (or too late) to start putting the really important things first.’
What is a Happiness Club?
A book club-style gathering in your own home where you invite friends along to discuss how you can put happiness – your own and other people’s – at the heart of your life philosophy. With our Happiness Clubs, Psychologies and the charity Action for Happiness are working together on a shared vision to create a happier and less self-centred world, with far fewer people suffering from mental health problems and far more people feeling good, functioning well and reaching
out to help others.
QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS AT YOUR HAPPINESS CLUB
What things in life give you a sense of meaning and purpose?
Discuss: Why are we here?
What activities make you feel disconnected from a sense of purpose? What activities make you feel connected to your sense of purpose?
Do you believe everyone has a ‘calling’ – a job or activity that they’re passionate about?