Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “What if my life has no meaning?”?
It’s one of those days. All the progress you thought you made has faded from view like a mirage. And, sure, you could just keep going, but you find yourself asking why.
- What’s the point of even trying if I’m not even making progress?
- What if nothing I’m doing even matters?
- What if my life is just a meaningless accident?
Finding meaning in life — and especially all the bad things that happen (as well as in the long stretches of same-old) — can be a challenge for any of us.
Ultimately, though, it’s not about giving your life meaning but recognizing that it already has it. Once you do, it becomes easier to believe that everything in your life ties back to it.
Why is finding meaning in life important?
If you believe your life has no meaning — or that it doesn’t matter — it’s not a stretch to think that no matter what you do to help others, none of it will matter in the end. Everything you are and everything you’ve done will be forgotten.
No matter how long you live and how much you do, none of it will last. Life will go on as it did before you existed.
But your life’s meaning doesn’t come from the things you do. Even your purpose isn’t all about your doing something.
The things you do can’t create meaning. They can only express it.
Your life has meaning because you do. Every soul, including yours, is going through the process of becoming what it was created to be — through experiences, growth, and contribution.
So, while your actions have consequences far beyond what you’re likely aware of, the meaning of your life goes beyond that.
And once you realize this, you see meaning in everything — or you see that there is meaning, even if you don’t fully comprehend it. Nothing is accidental, and every experience can help you become the person you were created to be.
How to Find Meaning in Life
All the ways of finding meaning described here begin with the word “pause.” Because that’s how we allow ourselves to see the meaning that’s already there. And that’s how we can more consciously choose how to respond to it.
1. Pause to review your life and its experiences.
This is where you take stock of your life up to this point. You’ll list your experiences, your accomplishments, and what you’ve learned.
It’s also important during this pause to forgive yourself for:
- The mistakes you’ve made
- The things you once believed that now make you ashamed
- The way you acted on those old beliefs
We all make mistakes and will probably make more before the end.
But if you’re going to move forward without the weight of your past mistakes, you need to forgive yourself. Choose to focus on what you’ve learned. Do what you can to make amends to those you’ve hurt.
And know that, ultimately, how much you grow is more important than how quickly you do. And you can’t grow when you’re holding onto the past.
2. Pause to live in the moment and practice mindfulness.
It’s easier to let go of the past when you spend more time living in the present.
Take the time to breathe and to focus on your breath. You can only breathe in the present moment, so just by pausing to do this, you’re mindfulness/mindfulness-practice”>practicing mindfulness.
Pay attention to how it feels when you inhale, hold onto the breath for a few seconds, and slowly exhale. Let your stomach swell when you inhale, and let your muscles relax when you exhale.
Focus on the feeling of air in your nostrils and through your mouth — and on the sound it makes.
Thoughts will come and go, and that’s fine. Accept each one and let it lead back to your breath.
Mindfulness meditation is a great way to give yourself a break from the stress of all the things you want to do (or have to do) today, as well as to remind you to live in the present moment and to accept and savor it.
Mindfulness journaling gives you a space to express the thoughts that come when you’re practicing mindfulness. It sanctifies the ordinary things in your life — the things you might otherwise take for granted.
3. Pause to feel and express gratitude.
Mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand. And when it comes to journaling, it’s only natural to feel and express gratitude when you’re mindfully enjoying the present moment.
When you pause every morning to write down what you’re grateful for and to allow yourself to feel your gratitude and enjoyment, the tone you set for the day makes it more likely that you’ll pause throughout the day to enjoy the present moment and to feel gratitude.
When you pause to feel gratitude for your life, for the experiences you have and what you learn from them, and for the love you can give, you’re allowing yourself to fully experience the present — which makes sense, considering that’s where you live.
And that’s where you’ll find meaning in the actions and experiences of each day.
Related: 101 Things To Be Grateful For Today
4. Pause to connect with and feel compassion for others.
Everyone is hurting from something. Everyone has obstacles to overcome.
Those who hurt others the most are often also those who’ve been hurt the most.
Everyone has more to learn from life. You might be further along than some and far behind others. Wherever you are, though, it makes more sense to feel and express compassion for others than to judge or lash out at them.
Because sooner or later, you’ll be on the receiving end of either compassion or judgment. And because we’re connected, what you give to others, you also receive.
5. Pause to forgive those who’ve hurt you.
If you can feel compassion toward those who’ve hurt you — knowing they must also be hurting and struggling to figure things out — you can also forgive them.
If you feel stuck in your own life, fighting half-heartedly against waves of despair and clinging to angry feelings toward someone who has hurt you, you owe it to yourself to get unstuck. And the best way to do this is to forgive.
Start by forgiving small things:
- The stranger who cut you off in traffic or took your parking space
- The weather for ruining your hair before a date or an important meeting
- Your emotions for butting in and ruining your chance to get your point across
The better you get at this, the easier it is to transition to bigger offenses.
Start with a simple admission: “Whatever [this person] has done to me, I’m glad our mistakes don’t define us for all eternity. If I have a right to learn from my mistakes, to heal, and to become better, then so does every other human.”
You may not know, yet, what or who is behind it all — behind your life’s meaning — but when you forgive someone and let go of your anger and resentment, you choose to see more beauty and meaning in your life and in the people you share it with.
6. Pause to consider what you really want.
Answer the question, “What would I love?” or play the “Wouldn’t it be nice…” game. Go crazy and just say or write down whatever comes to mind.
You’re not being selfish or materialistic. There’s a reason you want the things you do, and it’s not because “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” It’s about what will make you happy — or at least what you think will make you happy.
And that will tell you something about who you are, what you value most, what you enjoy in life, and where you want to go from here.
Also, don’t worry about “being realistic.” What sounds unrealistic to you now might not five years from now.
There’s magic in thinking big. And there’s meaning in magic. It didn’t have to happen, after all. There’s no scientific explanation for it (that we know of). It just did. And it happened for you or for someone you care about.
So, why settle for being realistic?
Related: 50 Important Life Lessons
15 Meaning of Life Quotes
Need a little more inspiration on how to find meaning in life? Check out these quotes that will give you a different perspective on what it means.
1. “We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.” — Whoopi Goldberg
2. “Life is like a riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ― Albert Einstein
3. “Your life is your message to the world. Make sure it’s inspiring.” ― Anonymous
4. “Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” ― Joshua J. Marine
5. “Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.” – Joseph Campbell
6. “For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” – Victor E. Frankl
7. “Whatever we are, whatever we make of ourselves, is all we will ever have – and that, in its profound simplicity, is the meaning of life.” – Philip Appleman
8. “Life is a fairy tale. Live it with wonder and amazement.” – Welwyn Wilton Katz
9. “Life takes on meaning when you become motivated, set goals and charge after them in an unstoppable manner.” – Les Brown
10. “Everything in life is most fundamentally a gift. And you receive it best and you live it best by holding it with very open hands.” – Leo O’Donovan
11. “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” – David Viscott
12. “The meaning of life is not only to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
13. “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” – Aristotle
14. “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” – Viktor E. Frankl
15. “The secret to life is meaningless unless you discover it yourself.” – W. Somerset Maugham
Finding vs. Creating
When you’re looking for something, you’re implying it’s not here — right where you are.
By contrast, the more time you spend practicing mindfulness, accepting and enjoying the present moment, the less you feel a need to find meaning outside of it. And the less you need to assign meaning to the things and events in your life.
Your need to assign meaning or to name things is your attempt to control your life and steer it in the direction you think it should go, according to preconceived ideas or temporary desires. The less you try to control your life (because you realize you cannot), the more you can simply enjoy it as it unfolds from one moment to the next.
Meaning isn’t something you have to look for. It’s also not something you have to fully comprehend in the present. And it’s not something you have to create or attach to things.
You’re the reason meaning is already everywhere you are.
If that’s not enough, get involved in something bigger than yourself. Divert your mind from its default questions of “What’s in this for me?” or “How will this affect me?” Let your thoughts and actions be about something that benefits more people (including you).
The more you practice compassion toward others — which is better described as “oneness” — the less time you spend pursuing the experience of meaning. Because you’re already expressing it.
So, may your compassion and gratitude influence everything you do today.