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How Does a Sense of Meaning Make a Difference in Our Lives?

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

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It seems to be human nature to want meaning and purpose in life. The idea of meaning in life can be broken down into three areas:

  • Believing that life makes sense and that you have some control in your life.

  • Having a sense of purpose, such as goals that you work towards

  • Having a sense that your life has value and that you make a difference

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Psychiatrist and a holocaust survivor, drew strength from a sense of meaning and purpose in order to survive the horrendous conditions of the Nazi concentration camps. His classic book “Man’s Search for Meaning” shares his experience and insights. One of his key insights was that “what matters is not the meaning in life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” Frankl suggests embracing activities that connect you to “a cause greater than oneself.”

How do we find meaning in our lives?

  • Through daily routines that help us to believe that life makes sense.

  • Through having a clear sense of our values and how we want to live our lives.

  • Through taking action that fits with your values.

  • By taking the time to notice and appreciate the impact of what you do on the world around you.

On this last point, Elizabeth Dunn, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia has studied how people find meaning. She has found that around the world, people find meaning by giving to a cause that is important to them. Meaning and happiness go together. We have evolved to find joy in giving. She has been part of a group that sponsored a Syrian refugee family. She developed a relationship with the family and saw firsthand the impact of her actions on the lives of the family. She argues that when we have a real sense of connection to what we are doing, we see the difference it makes in people’s lives and we feel happy.

In one of the therapy approaches I use, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) we explore your values and look at taking action consistent with them. To learn more about how I work, go to or contact me


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