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Science and Religion on Meaning and Purpose

Science and Religion on Meaning and Purpose

This videotaped discussion between a United Methodist Minister, Caleb Pitkin, and a professor and scholar of meaning and purpose, Gleb Tsipursky, uncovers both differences and some surprising parallels in the approach of religion and science to these eternal issues.

According to the mainstream opinion in the United States and many other countries, meaning and purpose come from religion. At the same time, research shows that having a clear answer to the question of life meaning and purpose can greatly improve our mental and physical wellbeing. Thus, many people claim that you should believe in God and go to church in order to have strong meaning and purpose and improve your health and wellbeing.

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Yet more and more young people are distancing themselves away from religious faith, with a growing number of “nones,” people without any religious affiliation in American society. Many nones, and young people in general, are seeking for answers that don’t necessarily include a God as part of the equation. Recently, several books have explored this possibility, that of having life meaning and purpose or a sense of spirituality without God, as part of the public conversation.

Four Key Elements

So what do studies on this issue show? Apparently, the important thing is simply to gain a sense of life purpose and meaning: the source of the purpose itself is not so important.

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There are four crucial elements to gaining a sense of meaning and purpose, according to the scientific literature. It is key to gain a sense of your long-term goals, as meaning and purpose are at heart about the overarching drivers that motivate your everyday activities. Getting a clear sense of how your long-term goals connect to what you do in day-to-day life will help you gain those drivers and that sense of having a fulfilling life experience.

The second element is self-reflection. For instance, studies illustrate that people who self-reflect on the kind of meaning they experienced in their lives from their joys, sorrows, sacrifices, and blessings have a richer sense of meaning and purpose than those who do not.

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Community and social bonds are crucial to experiencing a rich sense of meaning and purpose. Those who improve their community and social bonds are highly likely to experience a greater sense of meaning and purpose as a result.

Fourth, we gain an increased sense of meaning and purpose from a connection to something bigger outside of ourselves through serving others. Thus, doing charitable giving and service work would result in a growth in our personal sense of meaning and purpose.

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Religion, Meaning, and Purpose

Religion can be one among many channels to help someone gain a sense of life meaning. The video explores the question in more depth. It discusses how serving God and being in a community of fellow religious devotees can help one gain a richer sense of meaning and purpose. This satisfies all four criteria shown by science to be necessary for a rich sense of meaning and purpose: long-term goals; self-reflection; community bonds; and service to others.

At the same time, other venues can also enable one to gain a personal sense of meaning and purpose. Anything that accomplishes these four key elements will do. The choice is up to you, but remember to make sure that you satisfy the four key elements.

For additional resources, check out this workbook with exercises on finding meaning and purpose using science-based strategies; this free science-based web app to evaluate your current sense of meaning and purpose; this free online class on finding meaning and purpose using science; and the wide variety of other resources on meaning and purpose.

Featured photo credit: Mcfarlandmo/Flickr via flickr.com

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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Last Updated on February 13, 2019

10 Things Happy People Do Differently

10 Things Happy People Do Differently

Think being happy is something that happens as a result of luck, circumstance, having money, etc.? Think again.

Happiness is a mindset. And if you’re looking to improve your ability to find happiness, then check out these 10 things happy people do differently.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. -Dalai Lama

1. Happy people find balance in their lives.

Folks who are happy have this in common: they’re content with what they have, and don’t waste a whole lot of time worrying and stressing over things they don’t. Unhappy people do the opposite: they spend too much time thinking about what they don’t have. Happy people lead balanced lives. This means they make time for all the things that are important to them, whether it’s family, friends, career, health, religion, etc.

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2. Happy people abide by the golden rule.

You know that saying you heard when you were a kid, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Well, happy people truly embody this principle. They treat others with respect. They’re sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of other people. They’re compassionate. And they get treated this way (most of the time) in return.

3. Happy people don’t sweat the small stuff.

One of the biggest things happy people do differently compared to unhappy people is they let stuff go. Bad things happen to good people sometimes. Happy people realize this, are able to take things in stride, and move on. Unhappy people tend to dwell on minor inconveniences and issues, which can perpetuate feelings of sadness, guilt, resentment, greed, and anger.

4. Happy people take responsibility for their actions.

Happy people aren’t perfect, and they’re well aware of that. When they screw up, they admit it. They recognize their faults and work to improve on them. Unhappy people tend to blame others and always find an excuse why things aren’t going their way. Happy people, on the other hand, live by the mantra:

“There are two types of people in the world: those that do and those that make excuses why they don’t.”

5. Happy people surround themselves with other happy people.

happiness surrounding

    One defining characteristic of happy people is they tend to hang out with other happy people. Misery loves company, and unhappy people gravitate toward others who share their negative sentiments. If you’re struggling with a bout of sadness, depression, worry, or anger, spend more time with your happiest friends or family members. Chances are, you’ll find that their positive attitude rubs off on you.

    6. Happy people are honest with themselves and others.

    People who are happy often exhibit the virtues of honesty and trustworthiness. They would rather give you candid feedback, even when the truth hurts, and they expect the same in return. Happy people respect people who give them an honest opinion.

    7. Happy people show signs of happiness.

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    smile

      This one may sound obvious but it’s a key differentiator between happy and unhappy people. Think about your happiest friends. Chances are, the mental image you form is of them smiling, laughing, and appearing genuinely happy. On the flip side, those who aren’t happy tend to look the part. Their posture may be slouched and you may perceive a lack of confidence.

      8. Happy people are passionate.

      Another thing happy people have in common is their ability to find their passions in life and pursue those passions to the fullest. Happy people have found what they’re looking for, and they spend their time doing what they love.

      9. Happy people see challenges as opportunities.

      Folks who are happy accept challenges and use them as opportunities to learn and grow. They turn negatives into positives and make the best out of seemingly bad situations. They don’t dwell on things that are out of their control; rather, they seek solutions and creative ways of overcoming obstacles.

      10. Happy people live in the present.

      While unhappy people tend to dwell on the past and worry about the future, happy people live in the moment. They are grateful for “the now” and focus their efforts on living life to the fullest in the present. Their philosophy is:

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      There’s a reason it’s called “the present.” Because life is a gift.

      So if you’d like to bring a little more happiness into your life, think about the 10 principles above and how you can use them to make yourself better.

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