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How to find meaning in life and why it matters more than pleasure

meaning in life

Years ago, I attended a personal growth seminar called Landmark. After two days of intense training, the meeting wrapped up with the proclamation that there’s no meaning in life.

None of it matters, the facilitator proclaimed, and I knew he was wrong. The idea that nothing in life carries any meaning stood contrary to everything I believed.

Later on, I read a book by Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, which strengthened my belief that meaning in life is, in fact, our primary source of happiness.

Pursuing pleasure does not make you happy. Finding meaning does. Click To Tweet

Contrary to what you’d expect, pursuing pleasure does not make you happy. Finding meaning does.

That’s why so many people who achieve happiness goals are shocked to discover they feel empty and unfulfilled.

As Frankl demonstrated in his book, finding meaning in life can keep you alive in dire circumstances.

When others give up, your decision to find meaning in your suffering will enhance your will to survive.

When other outlets aren't available, suffering becomes an opportunity to grow. Click To Tweet

Ideally, we’ll find meaning in life through the pursuit of goals or expressing ourselves creatively. But, when those outlets aren’t available, suffering becomes an opportunity to grow.

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

Victor Emil Frankl

Without meaning, people fill their God-shaped hole with the pursuit of pleasure. They wrongly believe this will make them happy.

But how could pursuing happiness not make you happy? Because we’re not wired to feel fulfilled by pleasure without meaning.

That’s why addictions happen. Think about alcohol and drug dependence, pornography, or anything else people use to make themselves feel better.

Why meaning in life promotes long-term happiness

Often, we pursue pleasure to distract us from our suffering. Drinking too much wine and other coping mechanisms will numb you from pain in the short term.

But that pain is a sign something needs to change in your life. Therefore, those so-called pleasures prevent you from doing the work to make your life better.

When you medicate symptoms instead of looking for a cure, you prevent your life from improving. Click To Tweet

In the long term this decreases your happiness. When you medicate symptoms instead of looking for a cure, you prevent your life from improving.

Valuing meaning in life tends to correlate with a future filled with more health and happiness than the present.

Research shows people who have meaning in life and believe it matters do better in these five ways:

1. lower risk of divorce and living alone

2. increased social and cultural connections

3. lower rates of chronic illness and depression

4. less obesity and more physical activity

5. healthier eating and exercise habits

So, how do we find meaning in life? Here are five ideas that come to mind, but there are many more:

1. Thinking about and serving others.

2. Leading a healthy lifestyle with good diet and exercise.

3. Positive social connections.

4. Gratitude.

5. Dreaming about a brighter future (and taking steps to make it happen).

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