Meaning–Finding It and Making It



Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.     1-14

Abstract:  What human beings call “meaning” and “having a sense of meaning” or “meaningfulness” in their lives is described, and psychological elements and processes that contribute to meaning are identified.  Suggestions are made for increasing meaning to e’s life.

Key Words:  meaning, meaningful, purpose, values, fundamental emotions, fundamental motives

As human beings we like to “feel meaning” in our lives and for our lives to “have meaning” or to be meaningful, since this adds satisfaction and fulfillment to our lives and is a signal, we believe, that what we are doing in life is “right” for us (instinctually or according to some criteria that we subscribe to).  Our desire for meaning is illustrated when we want our lives to “mean something” or we say “What does it all mean?”

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines “meaning” in a number of different ways (the thing one intends to convey; the thing that is conveyed; something meant or intended; significant quality, especially implication of a hidden or special significance; the logical connotation of a word or phrase; the logical denotation or extension of a word or phrase).  It defines “meaningful” as having a meaning or purpose; full of meaning; having an assigned function in a language system.

The definitional aspects of most interest psychologically are meaning as a “significant quality, especially implication of a hidden or special significance” and meaningful as “full of meaning.”  Uses of “meaning” to indicate an explanation or what something signifies, such as “when they kiss you, it means that they love you,” are not germane to this discussion of “special significance” and of meaning in one’s life.  Meaning is also not synonymous with significance in general, since something that is meaningful need not be big or overwhelming.  A simple touch from a positive other can be very meaningful without being externally huge or overwhelmingly large.  “Meaning” here will be confined to one’s felt “sense of meaning” and to things that result in this “sense of meaning” (which are presumably things that one finds “meaningful”).

Please note that the content of this discussion comes from my observations of self and others over the years with regard to meaning and how we experience it.  It does not convey what any research on meaning might have found.  (My opinion, though, is that there has been very little meaningful research on meaning!)  I urge you to compare these descriptions and ideas with your own experiences with meaning and understanding of meaning.

Meaning can be found through both cognitive and emotional means.  We are not biologically given an inbred or automatic cognitive sense of meaning but are on our own to create it.  Meaning comes from our cognitive activities if we can “make sense of things” or see “the big picture.” We may also engage in activities that seem to “justify” our self-created or other-created rationales regarding meaning.  For those who value cognitive meaning, feeling some success in explaining and understanding reality (human beings, life, the world, the universe, etc.) leads to satisfaction and usually to some sense of meaning, probably because making sense of things increases our sense of security and effectiveness, particularly if we feel that a part of our purpose is to understand and explain. 

It will argued here that for one to “feel” meaning, one must have first recognized an experience or event as relating to or embodying something about one’s values, purpose, or fundamental motives and goals, so that “feeling” meaning always involves at least a modicum of cognitive activity.

We get our actual experience of meaning from an awareness of the cognitive aspect of meaning together with of a mix of emotions that is specific to each situation, most often including satisfaction, fulfillment, and/or awe.  These emotions result from our cognitive awareness of the meaning of that situation for us.  We speak of a “feeling of meaning” or something “feeling meaningful,” but our experience is a combination of a cognitive awareness and the emotions that that awareness stimulates.  The cognitive stimulus for these emotions may also sometimes be unconscious.

On the psychological side of things, I hypothesize that at least a fleeting feeling of meaning physiologically occurs (because feelings and emotions are physiological and also experienced) every time we feel or are aware of some success of our own or some event in the environment that serves or gratifies one or more of our fundamental motives and seems to move us toward achieving one or more of our fundamental goals in life.  Meaning indicates to us that we are moving toward life as we wish it to be or think that it “should” be.  This could be our conception of the ideal life or just a “good enough” life, but it is always consistent with what we would judge to be “a good life.”     

Since we are self-serving organisms, we feel a sense of meaning in response to recognizing that we are doing “what we are supposed to do,” which we believe is to succeed in our human lives (which is defined for us by our built-in, fundamental motives).  An example is a parent finding her child’s high school graduation or wedding meaningful, due to recognizing that she has succeeded, at least to that degree, in creating and raising a child to become a successful adult.  For some, that sense of meaning might also require that the child graduate as valedictorian or be marrying a rich man, but those are added to the basic meaning of creating and raising a child that will be there either way and without which the concerns about specific conditions such as valedictories or riches would have nothing to be added onto.  An additional, separate meaning for some might be the parent feeling raised in status herself simply by the fact of the graduation or wedding, which might be gratifying her desire for security, for relationship, or for self-esteem (see below for derived motives and goals).

Our fundamental, inherent human motives are–
1–to have food, water, air, and a non-harmful environment,                        in order to continue existing
2—to stop or avoid physical pain/discomfort and bodily                                   damage
3–to be in a positive emotional state (primarily through–                              3a-having positive self-esteem (positive reactions to                                          self)
3b-having no or little emotional pain or conflict internally
3c-feeling reasonably secure (and stopping or avoiding                                   insecurity))
4—to have sex
5-to nurture a child
6-to defend and protect one’s primary groups (family, village,                   nation, etc.) and to help, in crisis, members of one’s primary                   groups

Fulfilling fundamental motives leads to positive emotions and leads to our feeling a sense of meaning, because fulfilling fundamental motives moves us toward having the life that we wish to have (or think that we “should” have).  Reaching or moving toward our fundamental life goals is inherently satisfying and meaningful to us.

Our fundamental human goals for life are–
        1-life maintenance and support (sufficient capacities and                            goal attainment to enable one to take care of oneself and                        those legitimately dependent on one, and meeting one’s                          basic needs at least adequately)
2-having no more than a minimal or at least no more than a                         tolerable level of physical pain and bodily damage  )                                     (recognizing that some amount of physical and emotional pain
are normal aspects of human life and the human adaptation)           3-having some pleasure and pleasant emotion in one’s life                           (including feeling some amounts of happiness and hope, and                 ultimately some (for many people, small) amounts of                                   satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment)
3a-having a good relationship with and good feelings                                          toward oneself (which may include loving oneself,                                        respecting oneself, accepting oneself, and treating                                      oneself well, and which in large measure arises from                                   being loved, respected, and accepted by others and                                     from creating good outcomes for oneself)
3b-having minimal or at least a tolerable level of                                                   emotional pain and internal conflict
(though recognizing that some degree of conflict and                                 pain is inherent in being human)
3c-feeling an adequate level of security
4-having some and to some degree gratifying relationships
with others, including most importantly, a secure place  in                      one’s family and basic acceptance in one’s community

What is “adequate,” “reasonable,” “sufficient,” “tolerable, and “minimal” in these motive and goal statements will vary somewhat with our individual differences (both physically and emotionally) and with differences between societies (particularly values and economic situation).  An adequate level of happiness and a tolerable level of pain are probably not specifiable in measures available to us currently, but each of us can report at any given time which side of that vague standard we are on.  Some societies promote more self-abnegation than others, and some put relationships with others above one’s relationship with oneself, but all people would naturally seek a positive relationship with the self and fulfilling relationships with others if they were permitted to do so.  To promote self-denial and self-injury as a method of controlling behavior leads to greater unhappiness in a society.

Finding meaning in things other than fulfillments of these fundamental motives depends on conditioned or logical connections between those things and these fundamentally “meaningful” motivations and goals.  For example, for some people, making money feels meaningful or gives that person’s life meaning, and it does so because the individual associates it with achieving comfort and/or security (through having enough, having more than enough, demonstrating superiority over others so as be in a positive emotional state, etc.).

If one receives a gold watch in a retirement ceremony, and its award seems sincere, one might say “that means something to me,” suggesting that being appreciated or valued is meaningful to one.  This experience of being appreciated or valued connects us emotionally with the appreciation and valuing that our early caregivers had for us (and which was essential for our survival).  The current experience of being appreciated and valued also connects us with the positive emotion that we feel from knowing that we are securely accepted in our community, and will put us in a positive emotional state to the extent that we value positive emotion toward us from others (because it indicates acceptance and security).

As another example, many people feel satisfaction and meaning when they defend their loved ones from harm (and this satisfaction and meaning is enhanced if the defense requires violence).  Directly defending one’s family serves a number of our fundamental motives (continued existence, love, security, positive emotional state, children, sex partner, family, and community).

A writer may find meaning in writing things that help readers deal better with important emotions and issues within themselves, such as love, uncontrollable fate, survival, risk, chance, perseverance in important tasks, loyalty, fidelity, the basic goodness of people, and our similarities with all people.  All of these issues relate to survival and thriving.

Succeeding in a profession or activity in which we provide something for others that they appreciate and value and that makes their lives better (singing, psychotherapy, building a well-functioning car, writing a useful computer program, social service) seems meaningful to most people and gives their lives some meaning.  Serving others, as in helping the poor, is the source of deep meaning for some.  This relates to the survival and thriving of those helped (helping others in our primary group) and is symbolic to the helper of his own survival and thriving (to have a “better life”).

In Man’s Search for Meaning Victor Frankl emphasizes the value and satisfaction in surviving even in terrible circumstances and in helping others to survive and flourish, and from his experiences in concentration camps, he finds these to be the most fundamental sources of meaning.  In this essay, one’s own survival would relate to one’s fundamental motive to survive and to satisfaction from “taking care of oneself” sufficiently to survive.  Helping others to survive would feel meaningful because of its connection with our fundamental motive to help others in our primary group.  (Our “primary group” can be expanded in our thoughts to include those of other groups or even all other human beings.)

After losing a loved one, some people wonder, existentially, “What’s the point of it all,” which seems to represent a loss of previous meaning in their lives.  This indicates that relationships, to individuals or with the group, provide the context for some of what we sense as meaning.

Some might find meaning in watching a high school graduation not for (or not only for) seeing one’s own child graduate but seeing the whole class move on toward adulthood.  This meaning could relate to self-esteem regarding any contributions that one had made to the general welfare of the whole class or to a sense of personal security in seeing society’s ranks of adults replenished.

All of these examples taken together seem to suggest that we sense meaning when our current activities or reflections touch on basic survival and human thriving issues—being loved, being valued enough to survive, being accepted by others, having a gratifying sex life, the survival of the group, helping others, being helped (especially if that help is completely voluntary and is not “owed” to us), being included in a group rather than excluded, finding comfort in our shared humanity, and making sense of our reality so that we can survive and thrive.  All of these experiences lead us to be in a positive emotional state through feeling valued and therefore feeling greater self-esteem and more secure.  This awareness is not only a cognitive recognition but includes an emotional response, too.  Sensing meaning often results in tears (more of joy than sadness, or of both joy and sadness together) and feelings of satisfaction, fulfillment, humility, awe, reverence, love, and gratitude.

It is important to note that while pleasure is listed as part of a fundamental goal, it must be understood in a circumscribed way.  “Having some pleasure and pleasant emotion in one’s life (including feeling some amounts of happiness and hope, and ultimately some (for many people, small) amounts of satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment)” does not imply that it is useful to seek to have maximum pleasure in one’s life.  Seeking pleasure on purpose and apart from the pleasures we can experience in the normal course of our work and relationships can lead to problems and to interference with our ability to take care of other goals, as we see in addictions and in hedonistic and Sybaritic lifestyles.  Similarly, an overemphasis on avoidance of pain, as in addictions, self-medicating for emotional pain, and retreat from real life in order not to feel any physical or emotional pain, interferes with other important goals such as cultivating sufficiently gratifying relationships and succeeding to reliably obtain for ourselves the things that we need for survival and comfort.

Some might argue that meaning is found in closeness with others, but more fundamentally closeness gives comfort and implies that we are accepted and valued, which are the things (in terms of fundamental motives and goals) that actually give closeness its meaning.  Not all needs connect with meaning, since while sex is perhaps the most powerful or even transcendent experience that we have in life, and its pleasures help some people to find life worthwhile and to keep going in life, the experience of sex itself does not result in the sense of meaning that we are exploring here (amazement, perhaps, and joy, but not meaning).  The closeness that is possible in sex, though, does connect to meaning through its implications for acceptance and value (if we cognitively make that connection).

Our desire for meaning is most closely connected with our values, and in general if a person is living much of the time in accord with her values, she will feel satisfaction from doing so and will also feel a sense of meaning if those values are consistent with the fundamental motives and goals described above.  Living a conscious and value-driven life (if those values are freely chosen) will lead most people to feel that they are living meaningful lives.  For example, being aware that one is living according to a superior being’s instructions and is therefore in a supportive or loving relationship with that superior being (as infants, this would be our parents; as adults it could be God) will evoke a feeling of meaning and that one is engaged in a meaningful quest, since being in a supportive or loving relationship with a superior being adds to our belief that we will continue to survive and be safe and secure, to feel “taken care of” in some ways, or even to feel content.  On the other hand, if one has adopted values that are incompatible with one’s deeper view of life (e.g., valuing self-denial, which conflicts with one’s deeper desire for pleasure and to be in a positive emotional state), then one might find some meaning in fulfilling a valued other person’s values, but one might also not experience meaning because of one’s own internal value conflict.  (Note that feeling meaning is not the same thing as having values, since values are beliefs and meaning is a cognitive/emotional experience.)

Our desire for meaning is related for many people to a sense of purpose in life, and many people are sufficiently satisfied with regard to meaning if they have a strong sense of purpose that they feel that they are carrying out (raise children well; lead the community; do God’s will; be who my parents wanted me to be; actualize myself; etc.).  If one feels fated (that one has not chosen one’s purpose but had it imposed on one), then fulfilling one’s purpose is not likely to give one a sense of meaning.  Also, if one feels that one is not carrying out one’s purpose to the best of one’s ability, then there will be little satisfaction or feeling of meaning.  If a boy grows up knowing that his parents want him to be a doctor, if this is compatible with his own inclinations and abilities, and if he conceives being a doctor as a significant aspect of his purpose in living, then he will feel a sense of meaning in fulfilling that purpose by being a doctor and helping people.  A strong sense of purpose is not necessary for meaning, however, since we can readily find meaning in things that don’t relate to our purpose.

Some associate meaningfulness with activities that we undertake for a purpose that is “larger than ourselves” or transcends our personal lives (giving one’s life to Jesus, devoting one’s life to charity, devoting one’s life to raising one’s children), but this is not necessary for meaning, since we can find meaning in discovering our shared humanity or simply in being accepted by others.  Finding meaning does not require serving the interests of someone or something else.

Many people find sufficient meaning in helping others (Big Brothers, food kitchens, visiting the sick, etc.), through one’s associations of “helping” in a broad sense with one’s previous meaningful experiences of sharing love with significant others and therefore feeling more secure and more positive emotions through protecting and defending one’s primary group, as well as through having added to the sense of security and positive emotional state of those others.

Many people find a strong sense of meaning in participating in large group activities with people they identify with (war, watching football or sermons in a stadium, political rallies, lynching), which probably relates to our sense of safety (“safety in numbers”) and our gratifications in our early lives as part of our families, as well as to our innate tendency to “school” like fish or line up together in parallel in group activities (which adds greatly to our sense of certainty and therefore our sense of security, when we believe or act just as others do).  Lining up with others one identifies with also serves to protect and defend that group.

In a more general sense, many people feel considerable meaning from being an active part of a valued larger entity or enterprise (church, science, profession, nation, corporation), which again probably originates in our early family experiences that help us to survive, to feel loved, and to be in a positive emotional state, and also relates to our evolutionary instinct to “school” and to protect and defend our primary groups.

Finally, people often feel meaning or find life meaningful when they do something that means something to someone else, which again relates emotionally to “helping” and therefore to caring and/or sharing love with significant others and protecting and defending one’s group, which contributes to one’s sense of security and one’s positive emotional state, as well as to the sense of security and positive emotional state of those others.  We probably learn this from pleasing our parents, and it generalizes to finding meaning in serving any valued authority (Pope, parent, boss) and can generalize from our own family to other people in general.

Many people experience positive emotion in response to beauty, and many also connect the feeling of awe that we may experience in response to exceptional beauty or to experiences of the divine with meaning.  This occurs because when we experience those things, we are recognizing the connection between those experiences and gratification of the fundamental motives to be in a positive emotional state by having self-esteem and security.  Beauty itself may also be a value of the individual or relate to his sense of purpose, or being close to the divine may be a value or relate to his sense of purpose and security.  Beauty and experiences of the divine may also connect with our desire for perfection, which we associate with perfect comfort and security.

In summary, an activity is experienced as meaningful or a life as full of meaning if it fulfills our fundamental motives and goals, and this often happens when our lives embody and express our values, sense of purpose, and/or what we think to be important.  We feel a sense of meaning or meaningfulness when we become aware of how our actions or our lives are “right” for us, are demonstrating what we believe is important in life, or are gratifying our fundamental motives.  Our values, sense of purpose, and what we think to be important are constructed as we grow up to be consistent with, serve, and express our fundamental motives and goals, which in many cases are also consistent with the values, sense of purpose, or sense of importance of significant others in our lives.


Meaning is not something that can be directly sought or found but something that one becomes aware of when it is there or after the fact, which implies that it is something that we perceive in connection with some experienced aspect of our lives. 

Meaning cannot be summoned on purpose.  Engaging in meaning-generating activities and all the while watching for the feeling of meaning would result in frustration.  Meaning comes without effort when a genuine and spontaneous emotional connection occurs between our current activities and those memories and awarenesses within us that carry meaning.

The “meaning” that one feels or senses regarding one’s activities or one’s life is brief, can come at any time, is somewhat like a feeling of satisfaction in one’s activities or one’s life but additionally is a sense that one’s actions or life are “right” in the sense that they are right for one, that they demonstrate what one believes in or what one views as important, and that they move one toward the life that one desires.

Meaning is always positive.  Discovering that there is evil in the world is frightening rather than “meaningful” (in the “significance” sense).

Meaning is perceived or created by individuals and need not be shared in order to be felt.  Meaning can be shared, of course, as when individuals in groups feel “meaning” in defending the group, but an individual may be satisfied with the meaning in his or her life or relationships or with the meaning in a quest or task without thinking of it as shared with others and without concern about whether others would feel the same way.  It is not necessary that meaning be about others (though much of it is), since doing one’s best to help oneself survive and thrive can feel meaningful also.

Most of us discover meaning by experiencing it and then may, after the fact, figure out what experiences and activities have generated it (which once again suggests that meaning results from certain experiences and that we learn rather than plan what things are meaningful for us).  If one knew that meaning was most likely to be found in connection with certain things (love, closeness, helping, being helped, etc.), then one could purposely expose oneself to those things and thereby increase one’s chances of finding meaning.  Observations of people suggest that for most people the activities that are likely to lead to meaning would be activities that flow from our sense of values or purpose, activities that are likely to result in being appreciated and valued, activities in which we are likely to appreciate and value ourselves, activities in which we are likely to appreciate and value others, and activities involving love, acceptance, helping others, and overcoming obstacles to survival and thriving for oneself, others, or the group. 

Sometimes one’s feeling of meaning can be readily understood and “makes sense” to one since one sees that that meaning is in response to current actions or events.  For instance, watching one’s child’s wedding would arouse a sense of meaning in most of us, which we could readily identify as summarizing our satisfaction (and self-satisfaction) with our part in raising the child to this point, as well as our wonder at the process of life creating life over and over.  However, meaning is a deep response, and there will be times when it is only vaguely clear why we are feeling it.  As noted above, we feel “meaning” every time we feel success at serving a fundamental motive or goal.  Many times we serve several motives at once, and our feeling of meaning at any moment can actually be a mixture of meaning responses.


There are a number of circumstances that can make it difficult for one to experience a satisfying sense of meaning.

1. First of all, if one is not in touch with (willing to feel) one’s deeper emotions, then one will to that extent reduce one’s opportunities to feel meaning.  And, if one is holding back from or sabotaging one’s efforts to satisfy one’s fundamental motives or move toward one’s fundamental goals, to that extent one is limiting one’s opportunities to feel meaning.  This relates to the unfortunate psychological situation for some persons of wanting to sabotage their own welfare (to suffer, to be a victim, to sacrifice, etc.) (which paradoxically can itself be meaningful if it is associated by the individual with being who one is “supposed to be” according to certain others), as well as the fear that some people have of feeling even their positive feelings, usually motivated by repeated experiences of disappointment and therefore a desire not to want anything or to hope for success in order to avoid further disappointment.  Any life circumstances that cause one to avoid one’s feelings or to fail to satisfy one’s needs will reduce one’s chances of feeling meaning.  (Overcoming those life circumstances would itself lead to feeling a sense of meaning.) 

2. If one has been raised by someone who is bitterly disappointed in life, it may be hard to believe that it is worthwhile to risk being disappointed oneself, and one will shy away from the things about which one could be passionate and activities that could be experienced as meaningful.

3. For many in our modern cultures, it is tempting to live by more superficial (and associative or “linked by conditioning”) values such as status and monetary value, while telling ourselves that we “really” believe deeper and more eternal values.  Unfortunately you cannot do both.  Where you put your daily energies will determine your opportunities to feel meaning in your life.

4. To the extent that finding meaning in being currently appreciated and valued is due to an emotional connection with being appreciated and valued as an infant, then it seems likely that people who did not feel appreciated and valued by early caregivers would have more difficulty finding meaning in their lives currently, since they would have one less emotional route to feeling something as meaningful.

5. Since meaning seems to be appreciated on reflection, people who are more reflective may find it easier to sense meaning when it occurs in their lives.  People who are more “hyper” or more task-focused may not be as likely to notice when meaning is there to be felt.

6. If one has been raised to present a false front to the world, then it will be more difficult to identify aspects of self and activities that are truly aligned with what is fundamentally important to all human beings–our fundamental motives.

7. If one has been exposed largely to superficial representations regarding meaning (emotions that are largely pretended; values such as money and status that are derived from the fundamental motives in order to be in a positive emotional state and to feel secure but are themselves ultimately unsatisfying; etc.), then one may come to believe that meaning itself is unsatisfying or impossible (and, of course, if one pursues those superficial emotions and values, one will keep oneself away from emotions and motives that could lead to a feeling of meaning).

8. Some people assume that things must be perfect in order to be meaningful or before one can feel any satisfaction.  Human life being what it is, no matter how we accommodate or try to fool ourselves, it is certainly never perfect!

9. Some people believe that something or someone is only meaningful if connected with a great event or success, so that the little successes that we have every day are ignored or denigrated with regard to their possible meaning.

10. A few people see through our human “making” of meaning, perceiving correctly that our very natures determine what we think of as meaningful.  If this is true, then what we experience as “meaning” is not related to any larger or more stable, moral, or consistent set of meanings or values outside of ourselves, and this appears to these people to make any confidence or belief in what feels meaningful too tenuous and uncertain to trust.  The most common way of relating meaning to something outside our human frame of reference is to believe that “true” values are determined by God or some other supra-human entity or force, and that the only “real” meaning relates to those revealed values.  Another way is to seek “eternal” or timeless values (which we think “must be real” because they are universal or because everyone has always believed in them) and to strive for their fulfillment.


If you would like to feel more of a sense of meaning from your activities and your life, here are some things to focus on.

1. Think seriously about what is most important to you in life (money, power, status, religious belief, family, achievement, sports, helping others, etc.).  Write these things down.

2. Write down the values you hold most dear (family, love, strength, loving kindness, compassion, honesty, responsibility, integrity, power, status, etc.).

3. Consider and write down what you believe your life’s purpose to be (or your primary purpose in life).

4. Consider the fundamental motives and goals above to see whether you are organizing your daily actions in ways that would being satisfaction and fulfillment of these motives and goals.  If you are ignoring these motives and goals in favor of others, it will make it harder for you to find meaning (and harder to find satisfaction and fulfillment in your life in general).  (Note that you may be identifying other motives and goals that actually serve these fundamental motives and goals, which is OK (as when you seek a good job, but it is really for the purpose of survival and pleasant emotional state goals).)

5. Ask yourself whether you live by your values and what you think is important in life, and whether you consistently focus your energies on what you consider your purpose in life to be.

6. Consider whether your values might be too superficial or simply copied from others and therefore not very meaningful to you.

7. If you are living by your values and putting energy consistently into your purpose, but you still don’t feel much sense of meaning, ask yourself whether you might not be giving yourself enough credit and whether you give yourself opportunity to reflect on yourself and how you are living so that you could appreciate what you are doing and have a sense of meaning about yourself and your actions.

8. Don’t be looking in your moment-to-moment emotional experience for meaning or to see if it is there.  If something is meaningful to you (and you are not resisting feeling meaning), it will just be there.

9. Some people assume that “meaning” must come in large doses or must relate to large events (a great victory, birth of a child), but we can find meaning in life every day, since our actions in each day either do or do not express our values, further our purposes in life, and gratify some of our fundamental motives.  If they do, then even if the movement or accomplishment is small, these actions are meaningful, if we are willing to allow ourselves to recognize them as meaningful.  If you assume that you yourself can only be meaningful to others for large accomplishments, then you have probably not been appreciated for all of your accomplishments but only for large ones, and this has made your life much harder and more bleak.  You can choose your own values and define your own purpose, and when you do this, you can begin to give yourself more credit, since your values, purposes, and fundamental motives and goals are just as important to you as anyone else’s are to them,

10. If you are not living by your values or furthering your purpose in life, ask yourself why not.  Are you too busy with other things (which might suggest that you actually think that those other things are more important than you are willing to admit)?

11. Create a plan for living in a manner more consistent with your values, your purpose, and what you believe in and that does a better job of gratifying your fundamental motives and moving you toward your fundamental goals.  This might involve relating to people differently, getting some social skills training, changing who you have around you, changing jobs, going back to church, taking up a creative activity (or just taking time off to create this plan!).

12. If the above steps do not seem to be working for you, ask yourself whether you might be denying the possibility of meaning in order to avoid being disappointed or because you have concluded that there is no such thing as meaning or that “everything is meaningless.”  Such conclusions may arise when one has been disappointed in people, activities, or institutions that were supposed to have meaning or supposed to be better than they actually turned out to be (e.g., leaving the Catholic Church because of sexual abuse of others by priests; leaving the church in disappointment because God has “let” your loved one die; abandoning your own behavioral control after being devastated by finding out that your parent has been breaking rules even while preaching the importance of those rules and trying to appear to be an upright and righteous person).  If you are wary of meaning or feel hurt about disappointments, you will need to make your peace with these existential issues before you will be able to engage in life on a positive basis again, through being honest with yourself and taking charge of your life, doing some hard personal explorations, doing some forgiving, exercising more discipline in your life (toward living your own chosen values and purpose), or through psychotherapy, pastoral counseling, or revivification of your religious foundations.

13. Give yourself some time to consider these steps and to make some changes.  Come back to these issues over and over (revisit them once a month) until you become clear about what you want to do and how to get there.

To find more meaning in life, organize your actions and your life around our deepest and most fundamental motives and goals (what is really important), focus on living by and expressing your most treasured values, and make opportunity each day for embodying your purposes in life.  Meaning is found in acting to express and further what we think is most important in life and to live out what we perceive to be our purposes.