For as long as we humans have walked this earth, we have sought to find greater purpose and meaning in our existence. For thousands of years, the question remains, is there a greater meaning and purpose to life or is the extent to which the human mind constitutes meaning and purpose entirely subject to the individual?
Our quest and search for meaning has long been documented throughout history, appearing through:
Passed down through story
And now, the media
In the book, “Man's Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl, he writes, “Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on.”
When we lack purpose and meaning in our lives it can leave us feeling hopeless. Devoid of passion or zest for life. We live in a time where we’re actively encouraged from an early age to follow our passions, find our purpose, and discover our meaning, but, what if, this pursuit is actually causing more harm than good? Anxiety and depression are commonplace within our society and the rise of people taking anti-depressants has steadily increased over the last decade. Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that more than 7.3 million people were prescribed antidepressants in 2017-2018, so why is it that whilst we’re actively seeking our passions, freely striving for more purpose and meaning than ever before, that more and more people are reaching for medication as an additional source of support?
One idea could be, that we’re crushing ourselves under the weight of our own ideologies around what form purpose and meaning our lives should take, and feel bad about ourselves when perhaps the reality doesn’t match up the expectation. Having the pressure to have just one thing that you’re good at, or one purpose in life, can block any direction, drive or love of the very thing that we set out to achieve.
As children we’re rewarded for showing passion and excitement which reinforces the belief; follow the high. Yet, passion is not something that we can maintain consistently at the same level of intensity forever more. Yes, we can remain passionate to varying degrees about something, but at some point, that level of passion will reduce (call it gravity if nothing else), we plateau, and we either have to slow down, pause, or take a break, and when this happens in our culture, we think that there’s something wrong with us, that there’s something wrong with our relationship, that we haven’t yet found that ‘one’ thing or person that we’re searching for, and we feel as though we’ve failed.
We then internalise that perceived failure and reject our original passion or pursuit, and feel a lack of purpose and meaning in our lives as a consequence. Instead of focusing on an attachment to an external goal or metric, should we not instead, better our understanding of the ebbs and flows of passion itself, and being able to play the full spectrum of human emotion, not just the highs?
In the Renaissance period, the word ‘multipotentialite’ was a term coined to describe a societal success which depicted someone who was well educated and that excelled in a wide variety of subjects or fields. It was encouraged that a person should embrace as much knowledge and development as one could attain. For more information on multipotentialites, watch this Tedx talk on why some of us don’t have one true calling by Emilie Wapnick.
If you currently find yourself experiencing a lack of meaning and purpose, here are some things that you can do today:
Write a list of all the things that you enjoy and what activities feel expansive.
Sometimes knowing all the things that we don’t enjoy is just as useful as what we do enjoy, so if you find yourself struggling for what you do enjoy, then simply start with what you don’t.
What’s most important to you in your life? Write a list of your non-negotiables (around 5 key values is generally a good number and easy to remember), and when faced with a decision, ask yourself, is this aligned with my non-negotiables? If the answer is no, then you can lovingly say so, without worrying about FOMO or making the wrong choice. You’ll be able to bring each decision back to what’s important to you and where you’re at currently in your life.
Spend time connecting to your own thoughts and inner world - the world is a noisy place and it’s easy to get lost in a sea of thoughts of what our friends, family, colleagues, and what the media is telling us is what’s best for us.
Create space to explore new hobbies and interests, or perhaps just create space in which guidance can come in. When we create space in our lives it can be an uncomfortable process but keep leaning in and ask yourself, why does this feel uncomfortable? What feeling am I unwilling to feel?
Think about what subjects you find yourself talking most to friends about, reading or searching on the internet.
Think about the times where you have felt the most joyful or uplifted in your life, what were you doing? Who were you with? Where were you?
Journal - when we journal we bridge our subconscious and conscious mind, so it’s a powerful tool for us to integrate parts of ourselves which we haven’t yet expressed or vocalised.
Cultivate a deeper trust in your intuition and ability to make decisions for you. Often we confuse fear with intuition or simply disregard and don’t trust our intuition because we’ve never had the opportunity to grow or flex our intuition ‘muscle’, but the more we use it, the easier it becomes to tune in to our own innate wisdom.
Get out in nature - spending time outdoors is so important for us to process and integrate our inner worlds. Just like nature has seasons, we do too as humans. Going barefoot outside on the soil or grass can help you reconnect with the rhythms of nature, and help you to feel part of something larger than just you. Feeling part of something when we’re feeling lacking in meaning and purpose is a great place to start bringing more hope back into our lives.
As far as we know, finding meaning and purpose in life is really dependant on what meaning and purpose you assign your life. Perhaps within that subjective pursuit, a wide range of meaning and purpose can be applied and experienced as we go throughout life. Whilst this thought may be overwhelming with the sheer variables and options alone, when we take the time to create space to do the things that help us to connect more readily to ourselves, to others, and the world at large, we’re choosing to experience and play the full spectrum of human emotion. Whilst that may not always leave us feeling hopeful, of course, there will be days where we question all of this, but much like the rain, the sun will always come out eventually, no matter how long it may feel otherwise.
Lean in, Your Meaning and Purpose in Life is You.
Until next time,
Francesca Elizabeth x