4 Ways to Find Meaning in Life

Erman Misirlisoy, PhD
6 min readMay 9, 2022
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

“What’s the meaning of life?” is a cliche philosophical question, but it touches on something fundamental about how humans relate to the world around them. People want to know that there’s significance to their lives, but not necessarily in any grandiose sense. Most of us just want to feel that there’s value in getting up and being active each day. We search for signs that our existence is a net good in the world, even if only on a minuscule scale in the grander scheme of the universe.

In the past, researchers have identified three important constructs underlying “meaning in life”. The first is coherence, which refers to an ability to make sense of what’s happening in our lives as we build a personal story. The second is purpose, which is the feeling that we’re working toward important life goals. The third is mattering, which is the belief that our lives matter in the wider context of the world around us.

However, new evidence is revealing an overlooked construct, and it may be the most crucial one of all. Researchers are calling it “experiential appreciation”, and it refers to enjoying and appreciating sensations as you experience them — a concept that you may already recognize if you’re familiar with mindfulness.

Comic from Extra Fabulous Comics

The fourth construct of meaning in life

In a recently published paper (February 2022), researchers probed what it means to experience meaning in life. In their first study, they analyzed past survey data from over 11,000 people across 30 countries. These surveys were originally designed to assess coping strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the researchers plucked out individual questions linked to meaning-in-life constructs. Here’s an example for each construct; participants had to rate their agreement with each statement or question below:

  • Coherence: “I’ve been looking for something good in what is happening”
  • Purpose: “I do something productive every day”
  • Mattering: “I’m doing what is good for our society”
  • Experiential appreciation: “I appreciate my life as it is right now…
Erman Misirlisoy, PhD

Research Leader (Ex-Instagram / Chief Scientist at multiple startups). Author of the User Insight Newsletter: https://userinsight.substack.com/