How can you find purpose and meaning through community? The traditional perspective on this is that religious community is vital for finding meaning and purpose in life. Yet what does the actual research on this topic show?
First, Why Care About Meaning and Purpose?
Well, as research shows, a strong perception of meaning in life leads to significantly higher mental well-being and physical health. Now, should you worry about your health and well-being based on your current sense of meaning and purpose? It’s wise to evaluate it, which you can do using this handy science-based web app. If you find it lower than you want, there are plenty of science-based resources to improve your sense of meaning and purpose, such as this book, this online class, this videotaped workshop, and plenty of other resources.
Benefits of Religious Belief
According to the science, those who believe in God and go to church have an overall more powerful sense of purpose and meaning in life, although some recent studies nuance these conclusions. But is it the belief in God that creates this stronger sense of life meaning and purpose, or something else going on?
Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging
Other research indicates that religion satisfies people’s desire to belong. Studies show that people have a higher sense of life meaning and purpose when they are part of a community and have strong social bonds. Likewise, people have a stronger sense of life meaning when they have an opportunity to reflect on this question, by themselves and especially together with others. Religion provides the primary opportunity for community ties and the main venue for discussing life meaning and purpose, at least in the United States. In other societies different institutions offer many of the same benefits as churches do in the US.
As an example, take Present-day societies with a more secular orientation than the United States have similar stories to tell, as illustrated by research on contemporary Denmark and Sweden. Most Danes and Swedes do not worship any god. At the same time these countries score at the very top of the “happiness index,” have very low crime and corruption rates, great educational systems, strong economies, well-supported arts, free health care, egalitarian social policies. They have a wide variety of strong social institutions that provide community connections, opportunities for serving others, and other benefits that religion provides in the United States.
Non-Religious Communities and Meaning and Purpose
So believing in God and going to church is not the only way to attain a strong sense of life purpose and meaning. You can gain it in venues that are secular and provide an opportunity for community ties and a chance to reflect on life purpose and meaning just as religious communities have traditionally offered. Research indicates that those who engage with such deep questions in a setting that does not expect conformity to a specific dogma overall gain a deeper perception of meaning and purpose.
In the United States, such venues are few and far between, but their numbers are growing. So if you want to gain a rich sense of life meaning and purpose, without an externally imposed and God-oriented framework, check out local affiliates of these national organizations. You will find a place to reflect on deep life questions from reason-based perspectives, and gain an opportunity to enter communities where you can form strong social bonds and great friendships. Also, check out workshops and videos by Intentional Insights on finding purpose and meaning from an evidence-based perspective, and discuss your thoughts on this topic in a virtual forum on our blog.
Questions To Consider
What is your experience reflecting on life meaning and purpose in a community setting?
If you are part of a community, do you find that such social ties help reinforce your sense of life meaning and purpose?
If not, what steps might you take to gain this benefit and thus increase your mental and physical well-being?
Featured photo credit: Communiy via flickr.com