Traditionally, research says three key components are present for people who report that their lives have meaning:
- Coherence - the feeling that life somehow fits together in a comprehensible way rather than being chaotic and random.
- Purpose - the feeling that one’s life is driven by worthy goals or activities rather than by unconnected, rote, or arbitrary actions.
- Mattering - the feeling that one is unique and yet connected to something infinitely larger than oneself with significance and importance in the world.
In other words, we want our lives to make sense, we want a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, and we want assurance that as part of something beyond ourselves, that the world is a better place because we’re in it.
Recently, however, research by Jinhyung Kim and his team suggests a fourth, even more important, factor: appreciation of experiences. When people appreciate the joy and beauty in their lives, they gain a sense that life is meaningful and worth it. It can be simply enjoying a sunset, hugging a loved one tight, getting lost in beautiful music, or gazing in awe at nature.
This is true even in the midst of turmoil, grief, and difficulties, such as the COVID pandemic and all that came with it. It is true even in people who are struggling to find the first three factors. Greater appreciation of experiences generates greater meaning in life across the board.
Interestingly, appreciation of experiences is 100% within our control. You can choose to thoughtfully touch a leaf, or to notice the texture and taste of each bite of food. You can choose to marvel at your body’s abilities or at the creativity of an artist, to see the wonder all around you and embrace the beauty therein. You can choose awareness and gratitude despite the struggles, hurts, and difficulties you may be facing. See what you can do to build your sense of life’s meaning simply by being present and appreciative.
As we enter 2023, you can also assist clients in finding meaning in their lives by asking good questions that support these four factors:
- Ask them to think about what they’ve learned and experienced over time, and to write down at least three bits of wisdom they could pass on to those they love.
- Ask what activities are more important than money and bring them a sense of satisfaction in life. (and ensure their financial plan supports those activities adequately).
- Ask what helps them feel part of something bigger than themselves. Then ask what they’d like to do to strengthen that connection going forward.
- Ask what makes them smile, gives them a sense of awe, or amazes them with beauty. Consider giving them a gift that reflects their answer – a framed picture of mountains, tickets to a symphony performance, or anything else that embodies what they appreciate.
For ourselves and for others, let’s all do our best in 2023 to build meaning, purpose, and joy in life!