We are terrified by the question and at the same time, madly
thrilled by it.
What is the meaning of life?
It's an age-old, primordial question at the heart of all humanity.
Wanting to know what the
meaning of life is can be compared to opening a humungous can of
question after question comes spilling out.
we're curled up in the fetal position choking on huge
Sound macabre? That's not half of it...
Wondering "what is the meaning of life?" is often at the core of
dark and dreary human experiences such as the
Dark Night of The Soul,
identity crisis, and existential depression.
Of course, we're all mildly curious from time to time.
But if the
Holy Grail Answer keeps escaping us, and if we wind up feeling
completely lost in life, it will become top damn priority to know
the meaning of life.
Without further ado, let's dive into this deep topic…
Just so you know, by the end of this article you should:
Be able to
understand the difference between meaning and
Possess a greater
sense of clarity
a sense of relief
Know what to do
with your life next - and how
Difference Between Life Meaning and Life Purpose
from all walks of life
share an innate
direction, and purpose.
This drive to
understand our life purpose
as eating is to
our biological survival.
You probably use them interchangeably - and have heard others do
likewise - but meaning and purpose are not the same things.
It's important to make clear distinctions here because otherwise our
"what is the meaning of life?" exploration will become very
convoluted very quickly.
Here's how I distinguish the two:
is of the mind - it's a philosophy, idea or belief we
ascribe to our lives. It's subjective. It's something you
is innate - it's "programmed" into everything at a core
level. It's objective. It's something you fulfill.
Does that make sense...?
When talking about the meaning of life we often confuse and
mix up the subjective and objective (or personal and impersonal).
Hence why it can feel like our brains have been put through a
blender when even considering the topic.
Now that we've cleared that up,
Let's explore that
What is the
Meaning of Life?
So… what is the meaning of life?
To put it simply, meaning
itself is very personal and varied. It's something that emerges from
your soul as a deep calling.
For one person, their meaning in life may be to raise kids,
for another, their meaning may be to,
create a charity,
breed horses, become a world-renown artist, live off the grid,
write a book, teach others, meditate deeply, travel the world,
...and so on.
Your meaning can be fixed or it can change.
Ultimately, your core essence (your
soul) will know your true meaning
In order to find your meaning, you'll need to do some
soul-searching. You'll need to understand yourself, your gifts and
weaknesses, your passions, and your interests.
This is an exciting
process that can also be frustrating and disheartening if the voice
of your soul is getting drowned out by the stress of daily life.
We'll explore how to find your meaning in life a little later.
What is the
Purpose of Life?
As I mentioned above, the purpose of life is more objective.
In other words, it's not something we have to create or find.
Instead, it's something we realize or tune into. Because it's
already there, because it's already intrinsic and innate to who you
are, there's no need to go chasing anything.
Isn't that kind of a relief?
what is this innate purpose of life?
In an earthly sense, our purpose is the same as everything we see
to grow, change, and
Just look at the plants,
animals, and trees; they all go through cycles of metamorphosis.
The planets also go
through cycles, as do the seasons. And the Universe is expanding
every moment! We too are destined to go through these cycles of
But is that it...?
Those skeptical about the spiritual dimension of life would shout a
hearty, "yes!" But I'm not an atheist... I don't have a mechanistic
outlook nor do I believe that this is "all" there is.
Why reduce the complexity of life in that way? I have personally
experienced the spiritual dimension of reality many times, and that
is enough for me. And so too have millions since the dawn of time.
However, as the spiritual purpose of life is immaterial, it's more
open to interpretation. (Hence why there are thousands of spiritual
movements and religious ideas in the world.)
Personally, I believe that our purpose in life is to mature on ALL
the physical, mental,
emotional, and spiritual.
The spiritual awakening
process is an expression of that maturation process:
our souls are
expanding and growing just like the galaxies. And like pregnancy
or childbirth, this growth can be a painful process.
But it's part of
As professor of cultural
anthropology and religious studies, Bonnie Glass-Coffin
As I have come to
realize through my life's journey, the purpose of our human
embodiment is, actually, to grow a soul.
Like the making of a
body during nine months of gestation, soul-making is also a
process. For, although we are born with it, our soul continues
to develop with every life experience.
Our sufferings are
simply the secretions that add to its luster - like a pearl
inside an oyster.
'Making soul' is the
process of a lifetime, or several lifetimes...
Mystics, saints, and
shamans of ages past and of
today, from places far and near, refer to this eternal sojourn
in many ways, yet whatever terms are used implies a conscious
engagement with our true potential as divine partners in
This is what it means
to "grow a soul." This is what it means to commune with our
On a metaphysical level,
the question can be asked,
"What are we maturing
What is the point of all
This is a complex topic, but in a nutshell, our metaphysical purpose
is to unite with Life/Spirit, to become one with the Divine.
traditions all throughout the world have agreed and referred to this
by many names:
Illumination, Heaven, Oneness, Nirvana, Bliss, Wholeness, Moksha,
non-dual awareness, Buddhahood,
...and so on...
How do we get there?
That's a topic for a whole other article.
But there's a multitude
of spiritual and religious paths that will suit you based on your
mental/emotional/spiritual level of maturity.
Meditation is a common
and recommended path.
Inner work is another
powerful practice that we heavily focus on within this website. It
is a non-dogmatic practice that can be integrated into any belief
The healing and inner
transformation it can produce is quite amazing.
How to Find
Your Meaning in Life
Each of us has
meaning and we bring it to life.
It is a waste to
be asking the question
when you are the
So far we've established the clear difference between what is the
meaning vs. purpose of life.
As we've seen, meaning is subjective, it is highly personal, it is
something your soul feels called to do or create. To find your
meaning in life, you need to learn how to find yourself.
to do some soul-searching.
If you have no idea how to do that, here are some simple pathways:
1. Think back to
what you loved doing as a child
Your inner child is your original self, the first version of
"you" that entered the world. S/he holds a tremendous amount of
wisdom that is just waiting to be accessed.
As children, we didn't carry the same level of baggage, social
conditioning, or fears that we now lug around everywhere. When
you were a child, you were attracted toward the things that
brought you the most joy.
The most interesting
clues can be found within the activities you did the most as a
Perhaps you liked to read a lot, construct things, dress up your
dolls, care for your toys, climb trees, talk to your pets,
pretend you were a police officer, construct imaginary realms,
and so on...
Take some time to carefully think about what you most enjoyed
Get a journal and
make some notes. Look for the activities you did for the longest
amount of time and most consistently. The answer may not slap
you in the face immediately, but think about what was the heart
and core of the activity you did.
What quality were you
attracted to the most?
Explore your personality (by taking tests)
I know this may sound banal, but free personality tests are a
wonderful way of getting to know yourself.
Plus, they're fun!
Not only do you get to learn about your strengths and
weaknesses, but you are growing in self-understanding in a
matter of minutes.
Not all free tests online are created equal. As our whole
website is dedicated to the pursuit of self-awareness and
self-knowledge, you'll find some unique tests in our
free tests area.
As always, take these tests with "a grain of salt." Take what
you need and leave what you don't.
You never quite know
what unique things may be revealed about yourself!
3. Expand your
We all have a "circle of competence" - a phrase coined by
tycoons Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. What this means is
that we all have some things that we're really knowledgeable
about, and other things we aren't.
Expanding your mental horizons means widening your circle of
competence. This could mean exploring a topic you know literally
This could also mean
delving into an area that you've always been secretly curious
about but have stopped yourself from exploring (for one reason
Take a moment to think about what you would like to learn about
if you were given a chance.
What thought first
pops into your mind? Whatever that thought is reveals the place
you need to go next. Even if you feel silly, be an explorer.
always convenient or comfortable.
But it is wildly
unexpected and can be supremely illuminating, particularly if
you're wanting to find your meaning in life.
4. Think about
what life has taught you
We are each
a set of
experiences in life.
experiences are neutral.
They have no
It is how we
interpret the experiences
interpretations of experiences
beliefs and theories about the world.
and theories, in turn,
what we observe in the world
Ultimately, answering "what is the meaning of life?" comes down
to how you think about and interpret life.
If not, it's time to.
One of the most powerful ways to find your meaning is to reflect
on the entire timeline of your life.
been the major highs and lows?
successes and tragedies have befallen you?
And most of
all, what have they TAUGHT you?
If you can answer
this single question ("what have all your experiences in life
taught you?") and take a higher perspective, you might just find
your meaning in life.
For example, if you
believe all your experiences have taught you to surrender and
let go, you might become interested in studying Zen Buddhism
and make that your meaning in life.
If you've learned
that all your experiences have taught you the importance of
sticking to your truth, you might become an advocate for
Make sense...? It's a simple but powerful soul-searching
yourself on your death bed
me, what is it you plan
to do with
one wild and
Mary Oliver once wrote.
This activity may at first appear morbid, but it holds within it
the seed of true insight.
death is upon us, everything
becomes clear, crystalline, precious. There's no time to waste
and the choices we've made in life dance before our eyes.
For this activity, you'll need to set aside five or ten minutes.
Get into a quiet and dark room. You may even like to wear a
sleeping mask or blindfold so your vision becomes pitch black.
If you want to put
yourself into an even deeper mindset, you can play some funereal
or ethereal music quietly in the background. (And just in case
you feel too uncomfortable, ensure someone is in the house with
Now, once you're ready, imagine you're lying on your death bed.
reflecting on all that you've done in your life.
think of your biggest achievements, what comes to mind?
are you the happiest to have done, practiced, or committed
Don't be modest here.
Think about something simply amazing you have done.
If nothing comes to mind, you can always return to this activity
later (perhaps in the early morning or late at night). Once
you're ready to stop the visualization, feel into your body,
stretch your legs and arms. And take off the blindfold.
about your experience - it will be extremely valuable to
6. Practice inner
Why is it that we struggle to find the meaning of our lives? One
reason is that we are emotionally or psychologically blocked.
We might suffer from,
We might be trapped
within the pits of an existential crisis, a toxic relationship,
an addiction, or mental health issue.
We may have even
experienced a spiritual awakening so strong that our life seems
to be melting around us - and we don't know how to put back the
pieces of ourselves.
One way to create inner harmony, balance, and wholeness is
through a practice known as inner work.
Inner work is the
mental, emotional and spiritual practice of exploring your inner
It is about gaining
self-knowledge, learning how to love yourself, working through
your core beliefs, and maturing (or individuating) as a human
For anyone soul-searching, inner work is a vital practice.
can be all too easy to skim across the surface of life without
going deeper. But whatever is
buried within you will eventually rise to the surface, sooner or
Inner work is about exploring and working with the
different facets of our inner selves.
The three major types of inner work that I recommend are,
7. Think about
what type of meaning you need right now
Austrian psychiatrist and
Viktor Frankl once wrote about
"For the meaning
of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from
hour to hour.
therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather
the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment."
It's true that old
"if a man finds a
WHY, he can bear with almost any HOW."
It was men that built
the Auschwitz gas ovens, it was man also who marched into them
with their heads held high and a prayer song in their lips.
As Frankl pointed out, meaning is not some solid rigid thing,
but it is fluid, changeable. We need to focus on finding our
meaning of life right now.
And the way I see it,
there are three types of meaning in life:
The first is
meaning in accomplishment or achievements, where we feel
fulfillment in completing tasks, goals, and dreams.
The second is
meaning we find in values such as the loyalty we feel
toward a noble cause or the compassion a mother feels
toward her child.
third is meaning in suffering where we embrace a sort of
attitude to justify the circumstances, i.e.,
will make me a strong person by anguishing through
Here I have defined
three types of meaning:
accomplishments and achievements
values (e.g. love, friendship, community, loyalty,
suffering (an attitude/belief about why we're
Think about where
you're currently at in life.
What type of meaning
do you need the most? Reflect on the most painful feelings you
experience on a regular basis - this will be the way to find
what type of meaning you need.
If you suffer
from feelings of boredom, fatigue or listlessness you may
need to find the first type of meaning
If you suffer from feelings of general unhappiness,
loneliness or a specific yearning for something, you may
need the second type of meaning (values).
And if you are going through an intensely painful period in
life that is characterized by anxiety, depression, grief,
hopelessness, and other strong forms of emotions, you may
need the third type of meaning (attitude/belief about
Or hell, maybe you
need all three types of meaning - that's okay too! (But perhaps
a bit more complex in the long run.)
I'll leave you with a quote from the
Book of Awakening by Mark
"It takes six million
grains of pollen to seed one peony, and salmon need a lifetime
of swimming to find their way home, so we mustn't be alarmed or
discouraged when it takes us years to find love or years to
understand our calling in life."
There is no race here.
You will find your
meaning in your own time. And remember, your meaning can stay the
same or it can change as you mature. There is no black and white
manual of rules here.
Very few people just wake
up one day and shout,
"OH...! I finally
know my indisputable life purpose!"
It's more like a messy
awkward food party, where you eat one thing and throw it away
until you find something that finally tastes really nice.
You may have come to this article wanting a definitive answer to the
notorious "what is the meaning of life?" question.
But the thing is, your
meaning is of your own creation. Your meaning springs from the
depths of your heart and soul. To hear it, you need to find ways of
going inwards, of listening carefully.
I sincerely hope the
above activities will help you to do that...