The Circle of Fulfillment - Meaning

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Meaning has a variety of definitions, but we are specifically concerned with the meaning of your life. That is, its importance, significance, or relevance.

The search for life's meaning has produced much philosophical, scientific, and theological speculation throughout history. As you can imagine, different people and cultures have different answers to this question. But there is some consensus that people find fulfillment in a meaningful life, separate from "rightness" or happiness.

Identifying the meaning of your life might come from answering these questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here?

Perhaps those questions could be combined to, "What is the basis for my existence?"

A couple of example answers might be helpful:

  • A Christian woman says, "The meaning to my life is that I am a daughter of a living God who has limitless love. I have intrinsic value and worth in his eyes. What is important to me is based on that foundation."
  • A secular man says, "I am riding a wave of energy that has come to me from the big bang and through my ancestors. I love to move forward every day feeling that energy. Being happy and supportive of others and the environment is what life is all about."

Going Deeper: Viktor Frankl's Definition of Meaning

In his book, "Man's Search for Meaning," Viktor Frankl says we can discover meaning in three* different ways:

  1. By creating a work or doing a deed.
  2. By experiencing something or encountering someone (e.g. experiencing beauty or loving someone).
  3. By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

*Perhaps one could add a fourth way, "By optimizing self-care." For one can carry out the other three more effectively if healthy and energetic over the long term.

He goes on to say that your life's meaning is not something fixed in time that you can declare, rather, it is about mindfulness. It is about becoming aware of what can be done about a given situation. And he asks the reader,

Doesn't the final meaning of life, too, reveal itself, if at all, only at its end, on the verge of death? And doesn't this final meaning, too, depend on whether or not the potential meaning of each single situation has been actualized to the best of the respective individual's knowledge and belief?

Going deeper still, consider Frankl's thoughts on self-transcedence and self-actualization.

Why Is a Meaningful Life Important?

Identifying your life's meaning helps you know where you are and where you want to go. If you know where you are, where you want to go, and what you need to do to get there, you are in the best position to have a fulfilling life.

Meaning is also important to your overall health and leads to:

  • A reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.[1]
  • A reduced risk of heart attack among individuals with coronary heart disease[2].
  • A reduced risk of stroke[3]
  • An increased longevity in both American and Japanese samples.[4]

The British National Health Service recommends a five-step plan[5] for mental well-being based on meaningful lives. The steps are:

  1. Connect with community and family.
  2. Physical exercise.
  3. Lifelong learning.
  4. Giving to others.
  5. Mindfulness of the world around you.

Watch the video below to learn more about meaning.

The Essential Driving Force in Human Beings

Related to meaning is a concept called “The Essential Driving Force in Human Beings.” What is it that drives us forward? What do we want out of life? What are we seeking?

Here are the ideas of six different authorities:

For Frankl, his meaning was his wife and his work. He held out hope that his wife would still be alive and pushed through a hellish existence to survive. After his escape, he learned that his wife had died early on. The thought of his wife, however, was still alive. It was so alive that it alone spurred him on. Rewriting his manuscript and formulating his own theory of psychology also pushed him through the toughest of times. He eventually published one of the most influential works in the 20th century, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Meaning Quotes

"Meaning comes from belonging to and serving something beyond yourself and from developing the best within you." Martin Seligman

"What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful." Dalai Lama

There's More to Life Than Being Happy - Ted Talk by Emily Esfahani Smith


Print, or write on a pad of paper, Frankl's ways of discovering meaning:

  • By creating a work or doing a deed.
  • By experiencing something or encountering someone (e.g. experiencing beauty or loving someone).
  • By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Add the fourth way suggested above (by optimizing self-care):

  • By optimizing self-care.

And the five-step plan suggested by the British National Health Service for mental well-being based on meaningful lives:

  • Connect with community and family.
  • Physical exercise.
  • Lifelong learning.
  • Giving to others.
  • Mindfulness of the world around you.

Then listen to this Ted Talk and her "four pillars" for a meaningful life.

Can you combine all the ways/steps/pillars into one comprehensive list of four or five items? Then think about it. Is there a specific area that deserves your attention?

  1. Boyle PA, Buchman AS, Barnes LL, Bennett DA. Effect of a purpose in life on risk of incident Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment in community-dwelling older persons. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2010;67:304–310.
  2. Kim E, Sun J, Park N, Kubzansky L, Peterson C. Purpose in life and reduced risk of myocardial infarction among older US adults with coronary heart disease: A two-year follow-up. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. (2):124–133.
  3. Kim ES, Sun JK, Park N, Peterson C. Purpose in life and reduced incidence of stroke in older adults: The Health and Retirement Study. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 2013;74(5):427–432.
  4. Boyle PA, Barnes LL, Buchman AS, Bennett DA. Purpose in life is associated with mortality among community-dwelling older persons. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2009;71:574–579.
  5. Five steps to mental wellbeing. 2017.