Funny as it was, Monty Python fans with a bit of a spiritual hankering would have been disappointed to discover that the 80s film The Meaning of Life did nothing at all to illuminate the actual meaning of life. And Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was even more perplexing, as we were left trying to figure out how and why the answer to life’s biggest question – the meaning of life, the universe and everything – could be the number 42.
Being neither a philosopher nor a comedian, I’m not qualified to resolve the question of the meaning of life. But as a positive psychologist, I think it’s extremely important and far more relevant for each one of us to ask ourselves personally ‘what’s the meaning of my life?’ Having a clear sense of why you’re on the planet, your core purpose and reason for being, is one of the fundamental pillars of happiness, and essential to the health and well-being of individuals, communities and workplaces.
The Austrian Psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, who went on to write the classic book Man’s Search For Meaning, observed that the men who survived the horrific and wretched conditions of the Nazi death camps were not the fittest, strongest or most hopeful, but those who believed they had a reason to live. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche captured the essence of Frankl’s observation in his famous quote ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how’.
So how do we discover our purpose? Some people just know. They grow up with a strong belief that they were put on the earth for a particular reason, and they pursue this with a passion. Sometimes people gradually become aware of a calling, others experience some kind of epiphany. These experiences may have a spiritual or religious context, but often don’t. The meaning you attach to your life can be enormous, public and weighty, but it doesn’t have to be. Your purpose could be simple, light and profoundly personal. It might be about finding a cure for cancer or saving the planet, or it could be about making others laugh, creating a beautiful garden or giving your children a good life.
If you’ve never thought about the meaning of your life, or have difficulty connecting with anything, here’s some suggestions:
- Write an obituary – what would you like written on your tombstone for others to remember you by?
- Write a legacy speech – when you retire from the workforce, what would you like people to say were your greatest achievements?
- Give yourself an OAM – you know the format: ‘Bill Smith, for long-standing services to ….. and for his unwavering commitment to…….’
- Describe your passion – what’s one thing that captivates your attention, what do you read about, listen to, watch on TV, talk to friends about and spend your leisure time doing?
- Look back – what did you love doing as a child, what were you in to, what did you want to be when you grew up?
- Reflect on a challenge, something profound that you have faced and overcome – often these experiences can bring us great insight, empathy, growth or sense of meaning, and can become a catalyst to pursue a meaningful cause.
Connecting with our purpose is a way to bring profound peace, harmony, energy and well-being back into our lives. The first step is being able to articulate our purpose. Once we’re clear about this we can create a life and even a career to fulfil it. Most clients I work with are bored, miserable or unfulfilled in their job, and they’re desperate for a career change to regain energy, motivation and passion. So career development coaching often starts by helping each client to uncover the unique meaning and purpose of their life. Then if you can match your career to your purpose and passion, I guarantee you will love your job!
If you need help finding your purpose, or recharging your career, call or email me to discuss how a short series of coaching sessions can increase your happiness and well-being at work or in life.