3 Types of Meaning You Need for a Breakthrough
What does it mean to live a meaningful life?
Wanting a meaningful life is great, but what does that mean exactly?
A meaningful life isn’t one thing. It’s three forms of meaning coming together without discord.
Meaning as intelligibility.
This form of meaning is probably the one we focus on the least, but it’s the foundation of the other two forms of meaning. Intelligibility is about words, concepts, and beliefs being comprehensible and logical. When we have conversations where we don’t verify the meaning of terms or concepts, we fail to connect with others (even when we believe we do). Any beliefs we hold that are based in meaningless or incomprehensible concepts will cause us pain and dissonance when they are challenged by life, by failure, or by others. The challenges will come as we look for the next two kinds of meaning in life experiences.
Meaning as significance.
This form of meaning is what we’re looking for when we ask, “What does this experience mean; why is it important; what does it signify?” It might be a simple experience of serendipity, like meeting the same stranger twice in one day on opposites sides of town. It might be an experience of failure despite our best efforts. Or it might be a devastating experience like the loss of a loved one. We want to know why. We want to know the significance of it. How we answer that question will come in large part from the basic beliefs we hold that we consider intelligible, logical.
Meaning as purpose.
This form of meaning is probably the focus of most people. We want to know why we’re here. What’s our purpose? What is our work to do and why does it matter? Oftentimes the search for meaning shows up as ambition. This drive can show up in any realm or institution: family (right, contrary to popular thought, ambition isn’t only for the career driven. Wanting to excel as spouse or parent is ambition), church, community, politics, business, education. There’s a hope if we just accomplish xyz in the areas of life that we care about that we’ll find the validation or affirmation we seek that we’ve found our purpose (and it’s significant). We want our time here to matter.
All of these forms of meaning are necessary for a meaningful life. Believing meaning is only one or two of these three forms is where we often get in trouble when we’re chasing goals or when we’re hit with affliction or trouble.
It’s not just these three forms of meaning that we need though. We need them all to agree with one another. These three forms of meaning make up our basic worldview. They answer the questions: What is life? Why does life matter? What should I do with my life? These questions are intimately connected. When you have dissonance between them, you’ll also have a persistent personal growth struggle that results in pain.
It’s that pain which shows you the kind of meaning you should begin seeking to better align all forms of meaning in your life. This is the basis of the personal growth paths of The Curated Soul.
(Note: The kind of pain you’re experiencing shows you where you have momentum for growth right now and points to a particular path for seeking meaning. You can discover your path by signing up on the Paths page.)