There Are TwoApproaches to Meaning, Only One Will Make Your Life Better

You’ve probably heard that true love is unconditional, but have you heard that true meaning isn’t?

Jonas Ressem
Nov 1, 2019 · 3 min read
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Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

Growing up, I didn’t learn much about meaning. But when I spiralled into a state of meaninglessness, I certainly learned that you cannot will your way into it.

I tried, but it didn’t work. As an approach to meaning it was useless, and it only made me feel frustrated.

What I learned instead — based on this experience and research I’ve done for my upcoming book — is that there’s a better way; a way that makes life better.

The Elusiveness of Meaning

Meaning has a lot of benefits. As Samantha J. Heintzelman and Laura A. King explained in their research,

“Considering one’s life to be meaningful is associated with a multitude of very good things.”

  • It will make you feel better
  • It will make you healthier
  • It will make you perform better
  • It will make you more skilled in social situations.

Most people will experience these things. But it doesn’t mean their lives are very meaningful in general; as the common way is to experience it at random and have an on-and-off relationship with it.

Few will do it the other way — the better way; to search for meaning intentionally and create a kind of meaning that’s not only more stable, but stronger.

And the reason is that most people are unaware of how meaning comes about. They don’t know how to approach it, which is understandable, as meaning is an elusive concept and we’re not really taught from anyone how to attain it.

But as I learned, it cannot be attained by willpower alone. Luckily there’s an alternativeapproach:

True Meaning Can Only Arise from a Set of Conditions

Meaning is an experience. And this means you cannot will your way into it. Experiences don't work that way, but can only occur when you interact with a set of conditions.

Take, for example, a depressed man lying in his bed. If he wants to change his experience (being depressed), he must interact with the things that allow him to do that (whether that’s getting out of his bed or talking to someone while laying there).

In the case of meaning, research has shown there are three conditions to this experience:

  • Purpose. Refers to having goals and a direction in your life.
  • Significance. Refers to finding value and worth in your life.
  • Coherence. Refers to being able to comprehend and make sense of your life.

As Frankl Martela and Michael F. Steger concluded:

“In order to live [with meaning], humans seem to need three things: they need to comprehend the world around them, they need to find direction for their actions, and they need to find worth in their lives.”

This means that if you want meaning, you must interact with existence and find these conditions in your life. You must search for it. Only then can the experience of meaning arise.


Avoid meaninglessness, and proactively search for meaning on your own.

Make your life better; become happier, healthier, more productive and better in social situations.

Interact with existence. Fulfil the conditions. Go and find your meaning.

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