This article first appeared on the blog of Intentional Insights, a nonprofit organization that empowers people to refine and reach their goals by providing research-based content to help improve thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns.
Jackie felt a lack of meaning and purpose as a deep sucking feeling in her stomach. It was a constant drain on her, a deep hole in her center that she just did not know how to fill. She went through the motions of life - going to work, doing house chores, browsing the internet, hanging out with friends - but didn't feel there was any point to it all. She felt stuck and trapped, going through a meaningless and fake existence, with no way out to a better world.
Oh, Jackie certainly sought to gain a sense of meaning and purpose, many times. Her family, friends, and church members kept trying to convince her that faith in and service to god was the ultimate purpose of life. And she wanted to believe, she really did! But even as a child, Jackie felt something missing in that perspective, and started to feel that unease in her stomach. She grew more and more disillusioned in her teenage years, and the unease grew into a deep pit. She just didn't feel that serving god was really meaningful for her, it just didn't ring true - finding the truth was really important to her, more important than faith. The efforts of her family and church members to convince her only pushed her further away from them. Nobody was happy.
Then she learned about the idea that you can find a rich sense of life purpose using a science-based approach. She even learned that studies showed those with a deep sense of life meaning have much better physical and mental health! She was very surprised to learn that there are paths other than religion or tradition to having a meaningful life.
However, Jackie was skeptical. Jackie wanted to trust the claim that science can provide the answer. After all, throughout her life, Jackie was always driven to find the truth, no matter what the cost. She always questioned her family's commitment to an unwavering faith in god, there were some stories in the Bible that just didn't ring true to her. Over time, Jackie learned that the best way that humans know about to find the truth was through science. Yet the idea that you can use a science-based approach to find meaning and purpose in life went against all she learned growing up. Her parents, her church, and the mainstream media all told her that science can't answer life's big questions.
Moreover, Jackie knew that scientific research may apply to most, but far from all. Scientific studies on how to find meaning and purpose in life offer strategies that fit most study participants, but what if she was an outlier? This is one major reason for why she participated in the Quantified Self movement from her teenage years. Quantified Self is a movement devoted to using personal data on one's own physical and mental health and applying these findings to one's own body and mind, as opposed simply to trusting research studies whose conclusions applied to the majority of study participants, but far from all. This was an important part of Jackie's search for the truth and applying this truth to her life, and Jackie kept diligent track of what she ate, her exercise routine, and her mood through journaling and various other instruments.
And Jackie felt that meaning and purpose was too important to her to leave to findings that applied to the majority. She didn't want to place her hopes in something that she couldn't be confident in as being right for her in particular. She was burned too many times already in trying to find meaning and purpose using other means. She didn't want to be burned by science, too.
That's why she was so excited to discover the Meaning and Purpose Questionnaire (MPQ)! This is a research-informed tool used to quantify your own sense of meaning and purpose and customize science-based strategies to your personal search for meaning and purpose. The questionnaire helps you evaluate your current sense of meaning and purpose across a variety of spheres shown by research to correlate with a strong meaning and purpose in life. Doing so helps you see any spheres where you in particular have a gap in your meaning and purpose, and take specific steps to target that area.
For instance, question 8 asks whether you have social connections that help you experience meaning and purpose in life. This is an important question, since social connections is something that research shows corresponds strongly with a sense of meaning and purpose. If the MPQ reveals a gap in this area, you can focus on meaning-making activities meant to help you gain social and community connections. That might include joining local groups and associations to get a stronger sense of community belonging, or cultivating stronger relationships with your friends and family, whatever gives you personally a more powerful boost in your sense of meaning and purpose.
As another example, question 6 asks whether you engage in social service that helps others have better lives. Studies indicate that various forms of service to our society, ranging from volunteering and philanthropy to political engagement and social justice activism, contribute to a rich sense of meaning and purpose. Social service does so by causing us to experience a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves and also by enabling us to help others. If the MPQ shows a lack in this area for you, then you can choose to engage in a wide variety of social service activities, ranging from volunteering in soup kitchens, donating to charity, or participating in local politics.
As you start out working actively to enrich your sense of meaning and purpose, take the MPQ every few days. Doing so will help you see how well you are doing in various spheres relevant to meaning and purpose, and revise your meaning-making activities as needed based on the results. Later, as you gain greater self-understanding and a richer sense of meaning and purpose, shift to taking it weekly.
Jackie was so excited about the MPQ that she took it daily for the first couple of weeks. She learned so much about herself she didn't know! Her own major gaps lay in failing to take the time and effort to self-reflect regularly on her sense of meaning and purpose and lacking activities that served others.Taking the MPQ regularly and thinking about the results helped her with the first. So did taking a free online class offered by Intentional Insights on finding one's purpose using science-informed strategies. For the second, she took up volunteering at a local homeless shelter and donating money through Giving What We Can, an organization that identifies the most effective charities combating global poverty.
Jackie's MPQ score grew higher and higher, and that deep sucking pit in the center of her being slowly filled up. She gained more and more confidence in science-based strategies, quantified and customized to her life. She gained peace and balance, a better relationship with her family and social circle, and a feeling of deep meaningfulness in her daily existence. She also impressed her family and friends by sharing about the MPQ with them, and some of them began to employ this science-based instrument to gain richer meaning and purpose in their lives as well. She felt really happy about providing such benefits to those closer to her.
If Jackie's story resonates with you, I'd like you to consider the following questions:
1. What benefits, if any, do you think you can get from taking the MPQ and the free online class?
2. Do you think it would be helpful for you to quantify your sense of meaning and purpose? If not, why not? If yes, how would it be helpful?
3. What do you think you can gain, if anything, from customizing science-based strategies of finding a rich sense of meaning and purpose to your life?
P.S. After the publication of this article, one reader shared with me her experience with the MPQ, and I hope you find her experience helpful in deciding whether and how to do the MPQ for yourself.
P.P.S. For additional resources, check out this workbook with exercises on finding meaning and purpose using science-based strategies; this free science-based web app to evaluate your current sense of meaning and purpose; this free online class on finding meaning and purpose using science; and the wide variety of other resources on meaning and purpose available at Intentional Insights.
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Bio: Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is an author, speaker, consultant, coach, scholar, and social entrepreneur specializing in science-based strategies for effective decision-making, goal achievement, emotional and social intelligence, meaning and purpose, and altruism - for more information or to hire him, see his website, GlebTsipursky.com.
He runs a nonprofit that helps people use science-based strategies to make effective decisions and reach their goals, so as to build an altruistic and flourishing world, Intentional Insights. He also serves as a tenure-track professor at Ohio State in the History of Behavioral Science and the Decision Sciences Collaborative. A best-selling author, he wrote Find Your Purpose Using Science among other books, and regular contributes to prominent venues, such as Time, The Conversation, Salon, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere. He appears regularly on network TV, such as affiliates of ABC and Fox, radio stations such as NPR and Sunny 95, and elsewhere.