Happiness Club Key 10: Find meaning

Join our growing tribe of readers who are spreading joy by creating Happiness Clubs, with guidance from Psychologies and Action for Happiness. This month, Suzy Greaves is focusing on finding meaning and purpose


Happiness Club Key 10: Find meaning

Last month at Happiness Club, we looked at our darkest dialogues – inside our head! The ‘key’ to happiness was finding a way to be kinder to ourselves and to others. We discussed perfectionism and how cruel we can be to ourselves when we don’t live up to our own expectations. We discovered that every one of us in our Happiness Club had a fierce inner critic. We committed to taking tiny actions to be more supportive to ourselves, and agreed if we can first be kinder to ourselves, we are kinder to others. It was an enlightening meeting.

Life with a purpose

This time, we’re studying the 10th and final ‘happiness key’ from Action for Happiness: finding meaning and purpose. Studies of people who believe their lives ‘have meaning’ show big benefits for wellbeing and Martin Seligman – the founder of positive psychology – describes meaning as a vital component of happiness and wellbeing.

‘A simple way to describe having “meaning” in your life is that it’s about being part of something that we really believe in that is bigger than ourselves,’ says Vanessa King, positive psychology expert for Action for Happiness. ‘It helps us to answer the question: why are we here? It guides us in how we choose to live our lives, what we strive for and provides a framework for the goals we set. It can help make sense of what happens to us, provide a source of comfort and strength in tough times and helps us feel that we are not alone.’

Religious faith or other spiritual practices provide meaning for many, and research suggests people with faith tend to have higher than average levels of happiness and wellbeing than those with no religious beliefs, says King. ‘But religion and spirituality are not the only sources of meaning. For many, relationships with others are a key source of meaning – as parents, friends and members of a community. One of the benefits with religious faith is the connection that comes from being part of a shared community of like-minded people,’ she adds.

Other important sources of meaning include finding your ‘calling’ – a job or activity that you’re passionate about – or having a deep connection to the natural world. ‘Meaning is very individual. No-one can tell us what gives meaning to our lives, we have to find out for ourselves,’ continues King. ‘We can each find our own way, but we should try to remember the importance of meaning when making big choices about our families, jobs, lifestyles and priorities.’

Spirituality seems to be an almost fundamental and universal human characteristic, but one that is very personal and subjective. It is commonly defined as the feelings, thoughts and behaviours that both drive and arise from a ‘search for the sacred’.

Find your calling

There are many pathways to experiencing spirituality – both through religious faith (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc) or non-religious ways, for example, through nature, meditation or creative practices. The idea of ‘having a calling’ originally had religious connotations, but more recently, this word has also been applied in a non-religious context to refer to a particular approach to work.

Individuals who have a calling do work that is a source of both personal and social meaning. They find their work enjoyable for its own sake and feel that it makes a valuable contribution to society or improving the world in some way.

‘Callings are not restricted to high status or highly paid jobs but can be any role, at any level. The same occupation may be experienced as a calling by one person but not by another,’ explains King. ‘Unfortunately for too many people work is a means to an end – to pay for necessities and support their families (‘a job’) or a route to achievement or prestige (‘a career’) rather than a source of fulfilment and meaning.’

The good news is that callings are generally associated with benefits such as increased job and life satisfaction and health, regardless of level of income, education or type of occupation. People with a calling are less likely to suffer from stress and depression, or have conflict between work and non-work parts of their lives.

So where do we start if we feel we are not living a life of meaning? ‘Consciously think about which activities, people and beliefs bring you the strongest sense of purpose and passion,’ says King. Then we can focus on making sure that we prioritise these things in our busy lives. ‘Often we’re so busy just hurtling ahead and end up exhausted at the end of each day without ever finding time to think about what really gives our lives meaning,’ says King. ‘But it’s never too soon (or too late) to start putting the really important things first.’


How to set up your Happiness Club

For more details on how to set up your own Happiness Club, see psychologies.co.uk/get-your-happiness-club-started. For video interviews with Mark Williamson, the director of Action for Happiness, and positive psychologist Vanessa King, and to see the highlights of the first ever Happiness Club meeting with Psychologies’ Suzy Greaves, click on: lifelabs.psychologies.co.uk/channels/154-the-happiness-club

The 10 keys of happiness

Photograph: iStock

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