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The Need for Meaning


Explanations > Needs > Meaning

Need | Related to | Discussion |  So what?



We all have a need for meaning in our lives, for what we do to have relevance in the world. We want to be proud of what we have done.

We also seek meaning in everything we see and experience, attributing it either from experience or an imagined cause.

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Part of Includes Related to
Identity Purpose Curiosity






When we perceive the world, we need to assign a basic meaning to what we experience. This helps us to explain, predict and hence both to avoid dangers and to achieve our goals.

Beyond this basic interpretation, we also seek a deeper meaning in our experiences and actions. Meaning does not exist by itself. We attribute meaning to events and so give meaning to our lives in a way that creates our sense of identity. If we cannot explain things through rational and scientific means, we will resort to belief to give meaning.

We gain meaning through attention. As poet William Blake said, 'To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.'

When we have purpose, we have goals, the achievement of which gives us a sense of meaning. Meaning can be local and short-term. It can also be global and life-long. We hence could find meaning in both writing a simple letter and in helping to save the world.

A meaningful life is strongly related to happiness. People who create and find meaning also create and find joy. We often find meaning through family and friends. We can find meaning at work, though this may depend on our jobs and the quality of our leaders.

We know that our lives are limited, and the thought of non-existence makes us think about what our life means. Such thoughts can easily lead us to seek meaning beyond humanity, in religion and universal principles.

When we cannot find meaning, we will create it, even finding meaning where there is essentially none. We also attribute meaning when things go wrong, blaming fate, luck or God. It has been said that if God did not exist, then we would invent him.

Meaning is often socially constructed and shared. We accept meaning from others and offer our own interpretation. Meaning is a production, a design that fits in with other meaning. It creates our world. Meaning may be deeply cultural and those who do not share our meanings may be considered foolish or bad.

So what?

Facilitate the process of sense-making and the production of meaning. Interpret events for your purpose and share these with others as fact.

Be careful when challenging the meaning that others create, but also look for ways to reframe the meaning they have created.

See also

Pride, Culture, Meaning, Evolution and Religion, Beliefs


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