Meaning in Life and its relation to career

• Intuitively we know, and now recent psychological studies confirm, that people who work in a job that matches their meaning in life tend to flourish and have greater well-being in their overall life.

• Meaning in Life is a broad concept that orientates our needs. It is the unconscious or conscious reason for wanting to live. The Japanese have a word for this, “Ikigai”, which translates to ‘why I wake up in the morning’, and the French call it “Raison d’etre” translating to ‘reason for being’.  What is your raison d’etre?

• Some people search for the Meaning OF Life believing that they must find the solution to the existence of not just their life but all others as well – which is a much harder and often fruitless search. What is important is to find out what gives you meaning in life.

• We are born with innate physiological functions that use our short-term reward centers to orientate us towards things that help us to survive. At this stage survival is what gives us our meaning in life and we are driven to just survive (to live).

• But as our awareness of the world increases the need for finding additional meaning beyond just survival becomes stronger for most people. Factors which trigger this may be curiosity, fear, threat, loss and challenge. Because we start to seek more meaning in life our need for purpose in life subsequently grows stronger.

• Hence, there is a strong relationship between ‘Meaning in life’ and ‘Purpose in life’.  Meaning in life is the reason for wanting to live.  There is not necessarily only one thing that gives meaning in life, their may several things that gives meaning in life, or their may be none.  Purpose in life is the path to achieve additional meaning (the ‘how to’).

• Individuals can have different ‘purposes’ to achieve what gives them meaning in life for example:

Meaning Purpose
Love Acquire intimate relationships
Acquire collegial relationships
Foster family relationships
Help others
Faith Worship deity
Follow religious teachings
Evangelise religion
Wealth Accumulate wealth
Display wealth
Create Perform and write music
Paint artworks
Respect Gain respect
Gain social status
Be publically recognised
Pleasure Do fun activities
Pursue adventure
Competition Be first before others
Win at everything
Destroy competition

• Purposeful drives either support or improve positive psychological well-being such as those in the table above.  Negative drives support or reduce negative psychological well-being – examples of negative drives are guilt, resentment, fear, need for approval, and revenge.

• When we first start to search for additional meaning beyond mere survival, we start by looking for purpose first in the hope that what we do will give us additional meaning in life. Our initial purposeful orientations (eg obey, respect, love) are externally influenced by parents/caregivers; but over adolescence and early adulthood, as we are exposed to and experiment with more worldly perspectives, our purpose graduates towards satisfying a significant perceived need in the individual’s context in which they can have some efficacy (ie something that is personally meaningful).

• Intense searching for meaning (without finding it) leads to poorer well-being and more depression. But those who develop high presence of meaning have greater well-being and life satisfaction.

• Once a purpose is focussed upon it gives the individual meaning in life (a reason for living). However, a purpose maybe transient because it turns out to be incongruent with other needs or personality attributes, or may not generate ‘enough’ meaning in life to satisfy an individual.

• Because purpose is seen as the main path to meaning, crystallisation of self-concept tends to prioritise values to orientate towards the purpose, values create a preference in interests, interests assist development of related skills which result in task achievements that in turn feedback to satisfy purpose.

• Knowing our meaning in life, purpose, and negative drives are important in career development. If we know our most fundamental  personality motivations we can align our decisions and choices in career and life to more ably satisfy them and, in the long run, improve our chances of living a rich fulfilling life.

Some questions to ask yourself that may help identify your meaning in life:

a. Is just surviving enough to keep you wanting to live?

b. What would you miss most in your life if you couldn’t have it?
Sometimes asking yourself what you would miss most in life can identify what gives you meaning in life. We’re not talking about survival needs like air, water, food etc. but things that make you want to keep on living!

c. What are some things from the past which you remember most fondly?
e.g buying a new car, falling in love, travelling with your partner, winning a race, your team winning a tournament, being thanked for your help, feeling accepted by someone, producing a good outcome at work

d. What energises and excites you in day to day life?
e.g refurbishing an old bike, listening to love songs, painting, talking to workmates, gym workouts, buying things, talking to a friend

e. What are you looking forward to in the future?
e.g going to a sports match, buying an iPad, meeting a life partner, presenting positive sales results, playing video games

f. What do you want to be remembered for after you die?
e.g for helping others, being generous, was loved by many, created great artworks, was rich


One thought on “Meaning in Life and its relation to career

  1. Best post to read to start my day right! I love it, very inspiring! After reading, I kept asking myself, What’s the meaning of my life? Who am I living for? Those questions help me find a good reason for wanting to live. Thank you. Looking forward for more inspiring post.

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