Meaning of Life Versus Meaning in Life
There are two types of life meaning. It is important to make a distinction
between meaning of life and meaning in life. What is meaning of life? Meaning
of life pertains to the question of why we are here. It is a question about the
purposes of life. In contrast, meaning in life is a question about the value or
significance of one's life. In my book, Finding Meaning (3rd edition), I state
(page 5), "Finding meaning is the feeling that your life is full and significant."
The meaning of life is a difficult question to answer. We may not have any
definite conclusions concerning the true meaning of life.. Nonetheless, one
approach to addressing this question is to think of conditions of universality. In
my book, Finding Meaning (3rd edition), I mention two conditions of
universality. One of them is that it must be something that everyone can
achieve to some degree. The other condition is that it must be something that
can be achieved regardless of whether one experiences negative or positive
events in one's life. Based on these two conditions of universality, I suggested
that learning and self-transcendence are two basic purposes of life.
The question of finding meaning in life is a much easier question to address.
On a concrete level, we can think of specific situations and events that foster
meaning in our lives. We can find meaning on a daily basis. There is always
something that happens that can be viewed as significant or meaningful. On a
more abstract level, finding meaning in life may involve general principles. In
my book Finding Meaning (3rd edition), I describe seven sources or principles
of finding meaning in life. These are authenticity, creativity, continuity,
wholeness, purpose, coherence, and connectedness. (1)
The question of the meaning of life is a philosophical question, but the question
of meaning in life is both a philosophical and a scientific question. We can
conduct studies to address how people find meaning in life. In my view, much
more research is needed to address the question of how people find meaning in
life. There are many interesting and important questions that need to be
1. See my book, Finding Meaning (3rd edition) for more information about
these seven possible sources of meaning.
Bell, B. (2007). Finding meaning (3rd ed.). Portland, OR: Blue Fox
My book, Finding Meaning (third edition)
contains ideas about finding meaning in life,
adversity, and work.