Why meaning and purpose matter
As parents or grandparents, it may be hard for us to believe that boredom in a small child was not put there by nature simply to annoy us. Boredom is nature’s way of pushing children to learn, and encouraging them to be stretched in ways that give a sense of growing. As they grow, they master knowledge and skills that enable them to cope when life sends challenges their way. This need for meaning and purpose continues beyond childhood, forming the warp and weft of our lives.
Lack of meaning and purpose often voices itself when people experience depression. “I can’t see why I should bother . . . what’s the point in going on?” Or, even more concerning, “The world would be better off without me.” If we really listen, we can hear that a person has lost their connection to these vital ingredients in their life. But when people have meaning and purpose it helps them to make sense of adversities like accidents, injuries, bereavements and illness – things which never seem fair, but which we all face from time to time. Gaining knowledge and skills - perhaps a professional competency, art or craft, sporting skills, a language or topic of study - can be a huge source of meaning and purpose. When someone gains understanding or manages to master a new skill and exclaims “I see what you mean!” they have literally seen the connection between what they knew before and the new learning, as if they had fresh eyes.
We are all living longer, so planning how to get meaning and purpose into our lives post retirement, or when children grow up, move away and thrive independently, can become more of a challenge. If people no longer feel needed, it can tip them into depression. Seeking out opportunities to make a contribution to the needs of others like volunteering or supporting worthy causes, helps to prepare for this possibility.
Research confirms that when people have meaning and purpose in their lives, they are more resilient to stressful events that happen in life, and feel more fulfilled in general.