What happens when you live a meaningful life (and why should you aspire to it)?
Finding the meaning of your life or meaning in your life is to live for something that goes beyond yourself. But in concrete terms, what does the quest for meaning instill in the individual?
To answer this question, we first need to know what is meant by the notion of "living a meaningful life". It is a question of personal meaning, i.e. the meaning that you find or discover yourself in the moments or experiences of life. This meaning is different from one person to another, because it is constructed by each individual. Personal meaning is present in our understanding of the world (how we see it and what we believe), as well as in our interpretation of the stressful or painful events we experience.
What is the role of meaning?
The role of meaning in achieving a healthy and fulfilling life is crucial. We often dwell on the pursuit of happiness, but happiness is based on fading emotions. We are happy today and unhappy tomorrow, and the scenario keeps repeating itself. In contrast, a meaningful life calls for a state that lasts over time and promotes life satisfaction, even when subjected to challenging situations. It is so because meaning gives a reason to live, it brings a finality to what we go through, it makes us progress, it makes the difficulties of life more bearable, it helps to rebound.
How do we construct meaning?
A meaningful life is one that is focused on something bigger than oneself (e.g. serving a cause) as well as others (doing things that have a positive impact on others), whereas a happy life is rather selfish because it is focused on the individual. The quest for happiness can also lead to a wandering into the superficial, which can not fill the existence. The meaning, on the other hand, comes from deep within us. Meaning is constructed from felt emotions (positive or negative), accomplishments with others (non-personal accomplishments), relationships (supporting each other and having a sense of belonging), religion or spirituality (hope in desperate situations), transcendence (feeling connected to a higher reality) and fairness (justice). There is potential for meaning in every moment of life.
The more meaning we have given to our life, the less regret we will have at the moment of our death.
What does a meaningful life bring to life?
You are useful, you make a difference, you live a life that matters
To have a meaningful life implies to have a useful life. We all have a potential that can be used to contribute something to society or to others, no matter how small the action may be. Just by doing a little for others on a regular basis, we bring meaning to life and make a difference.
When you think about the good of others by doing useful activities such as helping, giving service, making someone happy, sharing your experience, creating something that can be used by others, you have an impact on the lives of others. You live a life that matters because you make a difference and because you are useful.
We can all put our knowledge, skills, and life experience at the service of others in order to bring value to the lives of others. Every meaningful moment created in your life and in the lives of others makes every moment worthwhile.
You have a motivating life
Living a meaningful life also means living and defending your convictions, for example by taking up a cause or getting involved in activities related to your convictions. Whether it's volunteering, mentoring, coaching or whatever, you find yourself feeding your vision and growing it. Having a conviction for a cause or for a goal and nourishing this conviction every day is a source of motivation, because you are working on a work that ignites you and justifies what you undertake every day.
You experience a life of value
When you live a life driven by meaning, you are able to find moments in life that bring positivity and value to your own life as well as others. As stated earlier, you engage in actions that are morally and socially good. You are worthy of esteem.
You develop virtuous values (humility, generosity, compassion)
To open up to meaning, we must be humble and move away from the "Me, Myself and I". When the ego takes up too much space, there is not enough left for others. All too often, the ego hinders the potential for benevolent actions that we can do towards others. For example, caring for someone else (a person or an animal) or something (a plant) brings more meaning to life. Things don't just revolve around you, but around others as well. This awakens generosity and compassion, since we give to others, we offer them help, we pay attention to them, we bring them comfort, we listen to them, we forgive.
You are fulfilled and satisfied despite the trials
With a life driven by meaning, you develop the ability to find meaning in painful situations and thus to draw out the positive. In addition, these negative experiences have the benefit of building character and compassion. You are able to cope better with difficulties and at the same time to be more sensitive to the misfortunes of others. This protects life satisfaction, because the difficulties experienced are not perceived as futile. When you are able to find meaning in what you are going through and what you are doing, you will find greater satisfaction in your life, even if your morale is low.
You become resilient in the face of difficult situations or situations beyond our control
Sensemaking turns negative experience into positive because it allows us to accept and see the positive potential of negative events. It promotes resilience. A resilient person is someone who is able to overcome adversity and rebuild without falling into depression. Thanks to a change of perspective on his or her experience (which meaning allows), the resilient person manages to live and develop positively, despite the fact that the stressful situation experienced would normally have led to a negative outcome.
You preserve your well-being, your life satisfaction and your quality of life
When going through difficult times, finding meaning in these experiences is key to maintaining well-being and life satisfaction. Negative events tend to decrease happiness, but increase meaning in life. Meaning helps create coping or survival strategies to overcome adversity. This allows, firstly, to have a stable life satisfaction whatever the ordeal and, secondly, to contribute to protect the well-being. All this contributes to the quality of life.
In sum, seeking, building and maintaining meaning in life is more important than the pursuit of happiness to achieve and maintain a certain level of well-being and life satisfaction. When you have a clear idea of the meaning of your life, you enrich your life and that of others, you develop the best in yourself, you better overcome the torments of life and you flourish.
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(Ma qualité de vie means My quality of life in French.)
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