Find meaning and purpose
As we have seen in lack of meaning and purpose, cultivating a sense of meaning and purpose is important for mental health.
Different people find meaning and purpose in different things, and there are many ways that we can increase a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.
- Survival — ourselves and those we love
- Finding meaningful work
- Helping others
- Engaging in spiritual practice
- Becoming part of a community
- Engaging in hobbies
There is tremendous meaning and purpose to be gained simply from survival — of self and of those we love.
Working to make sure that you and your loved ones have enough food to eat, a roof over your heads, and the basic necessities of life can be enough of an accomplishment to give us a profound satisfaction and sense of purpose and meaning.
It is important for your mental wellbeing, that you are engaged in daily work, whether paid or unpaid, which gives you a sense of meaning and purpose.
Work that you enjoy, that gives you a sense of accomplishment and value, that you feel makes a difference to others, and that plays to your strengths and skills can greatly enhance your sense of meaning and purpose.
Many find a spiritual or religious practice or belief to be immensely beneficial as a way of connecting with their sense of wider purpose and meaning. A spiritual practice can help give us a sense of our own purpose and value, our value to others, and the value of others.
Conversely, having a sense of meaning and purpose can enable us, whether we are religious, spiritual, or even an atheist, to feel connected to a higher purpose, or a higher power, one that goes beyond ourselves, which in some sense, is the essence of spirituality.
Forms of spiritual practice
- Daily meditation
- Daily prayer
- Organised religion or religious community (eg: church, mosque, synagogue)
- Being in nature
- Practicing values such as kindness, compassion, honesty, empathy, gratitude, forgiveness, and love
- Practicing living mindfully and being aware of the energy you bring to everything you do, and to every personal interaction
Other mental health benefits of spirituality
- Faith in a higher power (not necessarily God) may induce positive emotions which put the body in a healthy physiological state, balancing hormones and neurotransmitters, and reducing stress
- Habits and emotions associated with religious belief (i.e. a lack of criminal action, a tendency to forgive and see the good in others) can counteract the chemical stress reactions caused by negative emotions such as anger and resentment, and can decrease the incidence of depression.Diaz, N., Horton, E., Malloy, T. (2014). ‘Attachment style, spirituality, and depressive symptoms among individuals in substance abuse treatment’. [online] Journal of Social Service Research, 40(3), pp. 313–324. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01488376.2014.896851 [accessed 18 March. 2019]. Mascaro, N. and Rosen, D.H. (2006). ‘The role of existential meaning as a buffer against stress’. [online] Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 46(2). Available at: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-03083-005 [accessed 18 March. 2019].
- A daily spiritual practice can help to develop inner strength and resilience in the face of adversity
- It can help us to be feel more optimistic and hopeful about life, and open to the beauty and possibilities of existence
- It can provide us with a a sense of community and support
Caution around spirituality
- It is important to consider your spirituality carefully
- Ensure that you are comfortable with both the practice, and any group you are involved in
- It should never be a replacement for seeking medical help
A sense of meaning and purpose can come from feeling that you are helping others or your immediate family, and engaging in philanthropic activity through your work or in your spare time.
The caring professions, for instance doctors, nurses, social workers, etc, and also volunteering to help others in your spare time can give you a profound sense of meaning and purpose.
Whether it is paid or unpaid, part of your daily work or your hobbies, spending time engaged in activities which you are naturally good at, which engage your creativity and your natural skills, which you feel are things that you are born to do, things that you cannot not do can give you a profound sense of meaning and purpose. If you are lucky you are paid to do them, otherwise you can do them in your spare time as hobbies.
Anything that you are naturally good at, and that when you do them you get fully absorbed and in your flow, such as writing, painting, teaching, tour guiding, travelling, nursing, singing, structuring a business deal, selling — it can be anything. It’s more about how you feel when you are doing it, than what you are doing. It can bring you an expanded sense of consciousness and perspective, while at the same time a deep sense of satisfaction and grounding.
Sometimes the strongest sense of meaning and purpose can come from having positive, strong personal relationships and belonging to a community. Building these relationships and sense of community can be an important part of finding more meaning and purpose.
Other ways to find meaning and purpose
In addition to the above, incorporating the practices below into your daily life can also help you meaning and purpose.
A daily meditation practice can be very effective in helping us to become aware of, and connect with, our deeper wants, desires and needs, which in turn can help steer us towards our meaning and purpose.
It can also help to increase our awareness of our current situation, and choose more deliberately to live in a more meaningful and purposeful way.
Mental therapy can be a good way to connect with our higher purpose, and build lives which have meaning.
- Life coaching in particular can help us to explore and find our purpose and build lives around that
- Other forms of mental therapy can also help us to explore our thoughts and feelings towards our daily lives
- Certain types of therapy in particular are geared towards helping us explore existential questions of meaning and purpose, for instance existential therapy, Jungian therapy, psychosynthesis…
Practicing mind-body therapies can be a good way to connect with our inner wisdom, our cellular memory and knowledge. Sometimes we are too cerebral, too much in our heads, and connecting with our heart and our body can help us gain greater clarity about our meaning and purpose.
Being in nature can be a profoundly meaningful and healing experience for many people.
In nature, we can get a sense of our place and purpose within larger existence, even if it’s simply the sense that we are a minute but intrinsic part of the whole miracle of life. This sense of perspective can help us to connect with ourselves in the context of the larger universe, and may help us connect with our sense of meaning and purpose.