A meaningful life is something of a subjective matter, you might well think. What is meaningful to one person may, of course, have little meaning for another. However, there are certain aspects of fulfilment and happiness that all of us can ascribe meaning to. As such, there have been a number of scientific studies that have been carried out around the world that have delved into the subject.
If you want to know what research programmes and studies have to offer in the search for a meaningful life, then read on. You may be surprised at just how many insights science has to offer on the subject.
Music has long been understood to be a form of communication that gets into our souls like no other. It can even help us to be kinder and more helpful, one scientific research paper has suggested. Indeed, integrating listening to music into a daily routine can improve cognition, especially where creative tasks are concerned. What's more, the greater the level of joy was conveyed in the music, the more the effect of it was noticed.
Sound advice: music can make you more creative and kinder
Although certain health conditions are caused by genes and we may feel there is little control we have over them as individuals, scientists are now suggesting we can alter things ourselves. Certain genes have been associated with negative mindsets, for example, but meditation can alter them, or at least their effect. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin and some European institutions found that genes that cause bodily problems when we feel stressed are more likely to be suppressed in people who meditate.
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Although work may feel like it's not something we have much control over, scientists have shown that acting in a kind way at work leads to a shift in behaviour among colleagues. In fact, a study published in the journal Emotion demonstrated that kind behaviour was contagious when an experiment in it was carried out in an office in Spain.
“Integrating listening to music into a daily routine can improve cognition, especially where creative tasks are concerned.”
Could it really be that a meaningful life spent caring for and helping others can be of benefit to the individual concerned? Scientific studies suggest this is true. One paper published by researchers at Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that people who offer care and assistance to others will be better equipped to deal with their own problems. It seems that moods change when we help others, leading to a greater sense of worth that can assist with coping strategies for life's daily struggles.
A helping hand: aiding others can benefit yourself too
There have been several scientific studies into the role a sense of purpose has in developing a meaningful life. A recent one focussed on older people and found that this group was just as likely to need a self-defined purpose in their lives in order to combat a number of issues, such as diminishing cognitive function. Essentially, true sense of purpose can reduce the risks of conditions like dementia in older people.
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For some, it's their role as a parent that brings the most meaning to their life. Although there are many ways to bring up a child, science has shown that mindfulness leads to improved parenting techniques. According to a study undertaken by the University of Vermont, parents who practice mindfulness are generally more positive and suffer less anxiety in their interactions with their children.
We're not kidding: parenting can bring meaning to life
All that focus on your bank balance and earning more can improve your material wealth, but does it have anything to say about a meaningful life? According to a scientific paper published in 2016, people who value their time over money are simply happier. Ultimately, science has revealed that our time is the most valuable resource we have when people respond honestly to questions about their lifestyles.
Living a meaningful life may also lead to greater happiness, but science has shown that the two are not intrinsically linked. Put another way, being happy does not necessarily lead to a greater sense of meaning in your life. According to The Journal of Positive Psychology, there is a correlation between a meaningful life and a happy one, but the two concepts diverge. The pursuit of happiness for its own sake – through hedonism, for example – may not be all its cracked up to be.
You might not intend deriving a benefit from an altruistic act, but scientific research suggests that you will. According to a large study which drew data from around 200,000 people in 136 countries, giving to others, for example, in the form of charitable donations, makes people feel happier about themselves.
RELATED: The power of kindness
The researchers called this pro-social spending and suggested that it has a universal psychological impact no matter which culture was being examined. The work theorised that altruism may, in fact, be a product of evolutionary development among humans who derive longer term benefits from concepts like giving and sharing as a whole.
“Giving to others, for example, in the form of charitable donations, makes people feel happier about themselves.”
We've all been in the company of someone who cannot put their phone down and won't look you in the eye. And now science suggests this practice has a real detrimental effect on social interactions in the here and now. In fact, it can even lead to friendships and relationships breaking down because of the social exclusion that is felt. Social media may be fine in its proper place, but the latest research suggests access to it should be limited in face-to-face social contexts. ●
Ed Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.
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