Here’s a way to think about what constitutes a meaningful life:
- Coherence – to feel meaning you should have a cognitive understanding of the world. Without a sense of coherence, the world is chaotic and it’s difficult to see patterns and trends.
- Significance – this is the spiritual aspect of meaning. It’s the feeling that life is inherently valuable and worthwhile. This can be a particularly tough topic because it’s where all the big existential questions come into play.
- Purpose – this is the realm personal growth. It’s where you feel you can self-transcend and also where you can provide value to others. If you understand the world (coherence) and feel life is valuable (significance), what will you now do with your time?
Breaking down “meaning” into those smaller categories helps me feel that a lofty goal like finding meaning in life is much more approachable.
I discovered this framework in John Vervaeke’s 51 (!) part lecture series on Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. In many ways, it surpasses the Jay Garfield series that I recommended way back in 2016 by quite a bit. Definitely check it out.
By way of credit, I’m not sure who originally came up with the framework, it’s not Vervaeke, but here’s a paper from the Journal of Positive Psychology that goes over the state of the research.