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Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance that will satisfy his own will to meaning (Frankl, 1959, p. 99).
With this mind, the following suggestions can be followed in your quest to find meaning:
1. Foster a passion (purpose)
Vallerand (2012) argues either motivation or passion drives our desire and interest in activities.
Motivation is useful for activities that are considered dull (e.g., washing the dishes), whereas passion is the driving force for activities that has significance for us.
Passion can be negative or positive, however. Negative passion, referred to as obsessive passions, are maladaptive and lead to unhealthy behaviors; these types of passions should be avoided. On the other hand, positive passions – that is, harmonious passions – improve our behavior and lead to optimal functioning.
Vallerand found that people who had more harmonious relationships with their passions also had stronger relationships with the people who shared their passions.
2. Develop and foster social relationships (purpose, significance)
Making connections with other individuals, and maintaining these relationships, is a reliable way to develop a sense of meaningfulness (Heintzelman & King, 2014).
People who report fewer social connections, loneliness, and ostracism also yield lower reports of meaningfulness (Williams, 2007). Vallarand (2012) also said that sharing your passions with a group of like-minded individuals helps further develop harmonious passions, which, in turn, can generate a sense of meaningfulness.
3. Relationships that increase your sense of belonging (significance)
Although social connections are important, not all social relationships are equal. Make sure to focus on relationships that make you feel like you ‘belong’ (Lambert et al., 2013), where you feel like you fit in with the members of that group, and there is group identification.
Participants who were asked to think of people with whom they felt that they belonged reported higher ratings of meaningfulness compared to participants who remembered instances where they received help or support, or instances where they received positive compliments or statements of high social value.
These findings also tie in results of the negative impact of ostracism of the sense of meaning (Willams, 2007): If you feel like you don’t belong, then you have a lower sense of meaningfulness.
4. Monitor your mood (coherence)
Experimental laboratory studies have demonstrated a temporal relationship between positive mood and sense of meaning: Inducing a positive mode results in higher reports of meaning (for a review, see Heintzelman & King, 2014).
Managing your mood can be difficult. However, there are some techniques that you can use, for example, make time for interests and hobbies, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat healthily, and consider practicing developing mindfulness (for example, through meditation).
5. Take control of your environment (coherence)
There is some evidence that a cognitively coherent environment can boost ratings of meaningfulness (Heintzelman & King, 2014).
Heintzelman and King suggest that routines, patterns (which could refer to your behavior and the behavior of your family), time-blocking, clean environments can all contribute to an increased ability to make sense of one’s environment, which in turn can lead to an increased sense of meaningfulness.
Simple ways to induce a cognitively coherent environment would be to implement a fixed routine, to schedule time for unexpected tasks (e.g., “emergencies” delivered via e-mails), to formally schedule ‘down-time’ for exercise and passions, and to maintain a tidy environment (in other words, no you should not keep all of your dirty coffee mugs on your work desk).
However, do not be unreasonable with your expectations of your environment. Unexpected challenges will pop up, your child will have a meltdown, you might drop a box of eggs on the floor, but these environments will have less of a negative impact if you already have a sense of control of your environment.