What makes a “Meaningful Life”

Mar 21, 2020

Living a meaningful life leads to a happier life, a longer life and a more resilient life. What are the 4 Pillars of a meaningful life ?. Author Emily Esfahani in her huge, cross cultural study found four key “pillars of meaning”. (see Youtube TED TALK)

A feeling of belonging, being in relationships and being valued for who you are. If you are lacking in relationships to individuals or to groups within your community there are practical things that we can do such as expanding our connections with individuals and groups making a decision to explore, to reach out, to investigate and join.

Sometimes we can become aware of barriers to belonging and a real resistance to picking up the phone, fear of meeting new people, fear of the unknown, fear of stretching ourselves, feeling of unworthiness etc. If fears seem to be stopping you then one option is to explore the reality of those fears with a counsellor. How good might it feel to belong and to feel valued for who you are?

To experience a true sense of belonging we cannot settle for not being valued as individuals.Think of cults, gangs, some families, relationships and even workplaces. To feel healthy belonging we should also be feeling acceptance and appreciation of individual diversity.

Where do you feel a sense of healthy belonging in your life?
Which relationships do you have where you no longer feel valued? or no longer belong?

A feeling of purpose is the second key pillar in having a meaningful life. Having purpose has also been found to be a deep driver of wellbeing, enhancing resilience and extending lives. In a cross cultural study of longevity it was found that in communities where living to 100 is common the older people continued to have a purpose in their communities. Often they
continued with projects and work that they had done their whole life, just shorter hours.

What kinds of things give life purpose?

  • Raising kids, caring for another
  • Volunteer work
  • Making things to sell or give
  • Creative projects
  • Mastering new skills
  • Improving your community

Japanese people have a word for describing this concept “ikigai” something to live for, the thing that you wake up in the morning for.

What gives your life purpose? If nothing springs to mind you are at risk of being less resilient, more prone to depression potentially a shorter life. If you are living a life of purpose you are also enhancing your first pillar of meaning belonging.

Transcendence was found to be the third pillar of meaning in Esfahani’s cross cultural research. What is transcendence?

Transcendence can happen when we feel a sense of awe, time seems to stop and we have a sense of feeling unity with other people, nature, the universe, spirituality. Transcendence can happen in many different ways in many different cultures through …

  • Dance
  • Prayer
  • Meditation
  • Yoga, Tantra
  • Observing Nature
  • Listening to music
  • Walking on the beach, through the forest, sitting on a mountaintop or something else that you know gives you a sense of awe, deep connection, unity and timelessness.

So, in transcendence we are moving beyond thought, we are in the moment and we can experience a feeling of unity with everything. As we feel a sense of unity with everything our own sense of self diminishes and we can feel motivated to make the world a better place. We can experience ourselves as being connected, belonging and having a place and purpose in life

In choosing to make time for transcendence on our lives we are choosing meaning and from meaning can spring more happiness and contentment. Do you make time for transcendence in your life? Is it a priority?

The Fourth Pillar of Meaning is Story Telling. In the thousands of years that humans have walked the planet less than .001% of the time has there been the internet or social media, television or books.

In the long cold nights, over hundreds of centuries, humans have sat around fires telling stories. In telling stories we make sense of our own individual stories, our experiences, our gains, our losses and how our experiences have shaped our lives and led to insights and wisdom. You don’t have to sit around a campfire to tell your story to others and it can be of
huge benefit to review the story you tell about yourself. Edit it, re interpret it, retell it, write it, notice the threads, the themes, the challenges, the lessons learned and the meaning.

Belonging, Purpose, Transcendence, Storytelling, the 4 pillars of meaning. Our Nation is currently going through a crisis. You may well have your whole lifestyle turned upside down, you may be working shorter hours, you may have lost your job however if you can pay attention to, make time for and commit to the “4 pillars of meaning” in your life and community you could be amazed by the outcome.

Seeking a more meaningful life, feeling stuck, blocked, indecisive, unsure, un-motivated around any of these 4 pillars ? Talk it through with Martin (contact details)

Also,  see my posts on

Martin Fraser, B.A. (Hons) Psyc. Dip Counselling.

Particular interest in enhancing resilience in my community against Depression, Anxiety, Isolation and Addictions. Member of NZ Assoc Counsellors.

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