Nathanael Garrett Novosel, April 13 2022

To Find Greater Meaning in Life, Help Others

This might seem like one of the most profound questions anyone ever asked themselves: “How do I find greater meaning in life?”  After all, it sounds like a grand mystery that will never be solved.  Yet it has one of the simplest, most straightforward answers: help others.  How can this be, and why is that the only possible answer that could ever exist?  Let me explain.

When we talk about "greater meaning", we have to define the terms "greater" and "meaning".  By "meaning", we are typically referring to "significance" in this context, though it might also mean "impact" or "purpose".  By "greater", we are usually referring to "beyond oneself", as in "a meaning beyond oneself", though it could also mean just "more" or even "higher" as in more valuable, spiritual, or ethical.  So, given these options, you either want to have significance, impact, or purpose beyond yourself, to have more significance, impact, or purpose, or to have a more valuable, spiritual, or ethical significance, impact, or purpose.  In any of these three cases, you can see why the answer becomes so clear and obvious.

Now, The Meaning of Life: A guide to finding your life's purpose explains that the meaning of all life on Earth is growth because growth is every organism's purpose, growth defines life, and growth is what makes something or someone significant.  Naturally, then, "greater meaning" would simply be to maximize growth in the universe, so you can pick anything you want to push forward—e.g., art, music, human intelligence, technology, health—and take it as far as you can.  The more growth you enable—which will be exponentially higher if you foster others' growth as well as your own—the more you feel like you are having a greater impact.

That said, even if you didn't believe that growth is the meaning of life, the answer would essentially be the same for all three definitions:

There really isn't much more to it than that.  I could end the post here, but there is probably one final question you have: "Okay, but how do I find the greater purpose for me?" (after all, that's what you really care about; humans are selfish—I mean that in a good way—by design)

Well, I won't recite the entire book's findings in this blog post, so suffice it to say that you just need to take what you find meaningful in your life and make sure that you use your passion and skills for that meaningful activity to help others while you're improving yourself.  For example, if you enjoy art, you can sell your paintings, teach a class, or run a museum to spread your joy and knowledge to others.  If you like sports, you can help your team win or coach others.  If you have children, you will find meaning beyond yourself in helping them grow into successful adults.  So "greater" meaning isn't necessarily finding something new that's more significant than what you are already doing (though it could include that if you don't find what you're currently doing to be meaningful)'s often just taking what you already find fulfilling in life and making it more impactful by finding ways for it to improve others' lives as well.

Using this approach, you can actually make anything you do have greater meaning.  If you are a custodian, for example, at a train station, your maintenance work helps people get to their trains on time, which helps the trains run on time, and it prevents crime, illness, and injury.  The money from that job may help feed your family.  It might also help you go back to school or pursue a passion in your free time.  In this example, the impact of what might seem to be a job without "greater meaning" has great significance to the one who has that view of it.  This is why millions of immigrants to industrialized countries work jobs that the middle-class citizens there look down upon: so they can make a better lives for their families.  That is all the meaning these people ever need.

The possible reason for any "crisis of meaning" today is that now that the "I work hard so my children can have a better life" meaning has died down for many people who live comfortable lives, they are wondering what is next.  They keep seeking the next pleasure or high in life or look to becoming famous or rich, but that's not going to make up for the loss of the deep meaning of helping others.  People are going to have to find the next "I work hard so my children can have a better life" greater meaning: helping solve for world hunger, helping people through addictions, or finding advances in energy or technology to change people's lives.  The list goes on.  But they also need to focus on the meaning and impact that they have every day when they do a job: "flipping burgers" is actually feeding people.  Selling someone a TV is actually helping them enjoy years of entertainment given their budget and needs.  Every job matters...People often lose sight of that if they don't like what they're doing, but it's true.

If you want to find meaning in your life, seek growth.  If you want to seek greater meaning, foster growth beyond yourself.  In essence, help others achieve their goals, and you'll achieve your goal of meaning and fulfillment.

Written by

Nathanael Garrett Novosel


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