Struggling with meaning in life?
I totally get it.
I think most people go through this struggle.
The human experience is a beautiful, scary, chaotic, emotional one. We are thrown into this world without always knowing why. While many people may have such a strong purpose in their life — whether that be through their religion/faith, their work, or something else — many of us still struggle with meaning in life.
I remember struggling with these existential thoughts while I was a teenager and young adult. At this age, you don’t know what the world has to offer. All you can see is what’s happening in your life, in front of you.
You’re trying to juggle friendships, family, school, and work. You’re trying to figure out who you are and what you want out of life. It makes sense that we all struggle with meaning in our lives.
Trauma Can affect how you Struggle with Meaning in Life
Sometimes, a depressing or traumatic event can spiral you into a dark depression where you feel like you can’t find any meaning in life.
I remember after my first breakup in high school, I struggled to find anything positive in my life. I had won awards for my writing, I had done well in school, and I was picked to give our graduation commencement speech.
I had a lot of positive things happening in my life — but because of that breakup, I couldn’t see anything but that pain. I didn’t think I’d ever meet anyone else I liked as much again.
That depressive episode led me to dark thoughts and a cycle of negative thinking–things like I was never going to be good enough for this other person, that I deserve to be treated so poorly by him, that I will never be loved by a person again.
This kind of thinking led me to questioning and struggling with meaning in life — why keep on experiencing so much pain and heartache? What’s the point of it all?
For others, that trauma may be in the form of grieving for a loved one who passed. It may have been a big life transition, career change, a move. These big moments in life can really shift your perspective on how you see the world and how that world affects you as a person, and where you fit in that world.
When you’re in that state, it can feel impossible to think about anything else. Positivity makes you nauseous and the idea of being happy is a fantasy. I remember finding just about anything negative in all my positive experiences.
I would self-destruct or self-sabotage my own positive experiences–from birthdays to prom. I was always looking for what was going to go wrong rather than go right.
This can start to feel extremely nihilistic and depressing.
As I got older, I started to find my footing a little more. Having life happen to you changes your perspective — the people I met, the experiences I had throughout college and post-grad life — they all affected how I began to see the world. Travel helped me feel like my problems weren’t as big as I thought they were.
I had more relationships and more experiences that allowed me to get to know myself, even if I still wasn’t quite sure who I was yet.
The more perspective I got, the better I could see myself outside of the negative experiences I went through. I saw the impact I had on other people and gained confidence and satisfaction the more I learned about myself, my own interests, and what I wanted out of life.
Part of growing up is understanding that difference between what people, society, friends, and family tell you you should do vs what you believe in. It can be hard to find that balance, but staying true to yourself and what you get satisfaction from is what’s important.
Everyone derives meaning in their lives in different ways–it’s okay if your meaning comes from something unique from what others get their meaning from. It doesn’t make you bad or wrong–it just makes you you.
Struggling with meaning in life — a struggle with social media and society
However, in our society, there’s a really big expectation and pressure to succeed. It’s so easy to compare yourself to millions of others.
You start to see success stories and highlights of people’s lives–all the money they’ve made, the trips they’ve been on, the incredible attention they put into how they look and act in the world.
It can be overwhelming and start to make you question what it is you value and find meaning in.
Having anxiety means that I play a lot of different scenarios in my head. If I see a post about someone’s job, I might go down a rabbit hole of thinking that I should be in that industry. If I see someone post their workout routine or diet plan, I might feel like I have to start doing that, too.
Additionally, there are all of the advertisements that are targeting us each day based on what we search and are interested in. It can feel like a real trap for our mind–as if we’re being taught what our meaning should be rather than what it really is.
When I became more aware of the way I thought, I was able to fine-tune the messages I was telling myself. Maybe I was interested in a person’s life–but that didn’t mean I had to live their life, too.
Just because I admired a person’s work or the way they looked didn’t mean I had to then do exactly what they did to get there.
I also realized that everyone finds their own meaning in different ways. I used to judge particular people for the ways that they lived–but then I realized that perhaps the way they were living matched their purpose and meaning in life. And, just because I didn’t do what they did–for example, going to Church and believing in God — didn’t mean that I had no meaning.
I went from struggling with meaning in life to noticing the moments in my life where I really felt alive. Granted, I needed to go through therapy and start medication to get me on a journey where I could feel “normal.”
From there, though, I tried to observe the moments where I felt a spark–some form of happiness, excitement, or even some healthy nerves/excitement. I realized that I had a passion for mental health because of the way I talked to people. Oftentimes I’d get feedback from a conversation that I was a good listener, empathetic, and good.
These qualities were important to me because I wanted to help people feel like they were heard and understood. I wanted to feel like I was making a difference.
How to Stop Struggling with Meaning in Life
One way you can stop struggling with meaning in life is by volunteering. It’s so easy to get trapped in your own mind–when you get outside of yourself and put others first, you might start to see the positive differences you can make for others, our planet, etc.
When you put yourself out there in a way that you normally wouldn’t, you learn more about yourself and the world. For me, learning something new each day helps me get one step closer to finding that meaning.
Community and belonging is also key when it comes to finding meaning and fulfillment. If you’re isolated and alone, feeling like no one understands you, that can be scary. When you can be yourself around a group of people who love and support you, you may find that that’s what your life is all about–the relationships you have and how important they are to you.
By getting involved in different groups that align with your interests, you might find more purpose and drive in life. For example, if you really love to do art, you might feel scared to share your work. If you find an artistic group that hosts workshops and supports other artists, you may feel ready to share your work and feel that support from others.
Building that confidence in yourself through team-building like this can have a huge effect on how you feel–about your purpose and meaning in life.
Stay Open To New Opportunities
Not everyone is going to have just one thing that gives them that gut feeling that this is why you were meant to be here. Struggling with meaning in life can last a long time. Sometimes those meanings, and our purpose changes over time as we grow and learn–and that’s okay!
What works for one person may look very different for another. The one thing that keeps us connected, though, is that we’ve all struggled with meaning in life.
There are books upon books and films and music that explore all of these existential questions–as humans, we’re all here together just trying to figure it out. It’s an opportunity that we all get to have to learn and explore.
It might not always go the way we think it will, but you may find that an unexpected path leads you to a more fulfilled life.
Sometimes just being open to letting life happen to you and receiving what life throws at you is one way to help overcome that struggle with meaning in life.
You can find that, when life throws surprises at you, how you react to them may indicate what your values are, what you prioritize, and that all contribute to meaning in your world.
The more you learn about what’s important to you, the more you’ll begin to see traces of that meaning and purpose in your day-to-day life.
No matter how you might be feeling now, know that it’s temporary–you have a purpose, you have meaning, and life is here for you. Enjoy it, try to find those little moments. Follow them, and let that path take you somewhere you’ve never been before.
Struggling with meaning in life? Tell me about it in the comments.