What Makes Your Life Meaningful?

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While researching her new book, The Power of Meaning, author Emily Esfahani Smith kept coming across the same themes when coming up with her theory on what makes life meaningful. Both in her research in the scientific literature and in her conversations with regular people, four things kept coming up: belonging, purpose, narrative, and transcendence.

According to Smith’s research, most people lean on one of these four things — she calls them “pillars” — more than the rest when they are crafting a meaningful life for themselves. From her work, she designed the quiz below (which she very kindly shared with Science of Us) to give you an idea of what your “pillar” might be.

What is your primary source of meaning for life?

Please indicate if you agree with the following statements on a scale of 1 to 5.

I have important long-term goals that I’m working toward.
PURPOSE On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I am very close to my family and/or friends.
BELONGING On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I feel easily moved by beauty, whether in music, nature, art, or literature.
TRANSCENDENCE On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I’m always thinking about paths that I could have taken in life but didn’t—the “what ifs” and “what could have beens”.
STORYTELLING On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I love forming meaningful connections with other people, like my neighbors, my family members, and even strangers.
BELONGING On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I go out of my way to make other people feel cared for and happy.
BELONGING On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I devote a considerable amount of my free time to activities like meditation and prayer, yoga, and being outdoors.
TRANSCENDENCE On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I have very a good sense of what my interests and talents are.
PURPOSE On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I have had profound experiences where I’ve felt connected to something vast and much bigger than myself.
TRANSCENDENCE On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
It’s very rare for me to feel unmoored or unmotivated, like I’m drifting.
PURPOSE On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I often reflect on my childhood experiences and how they made me the person I am today.
STORYTELLING On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I am very involved in my community and civic organizations.
BELONGING On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I’ve had adverse and/or traumatic experiences that I spend a lot of time processing and trying to make sense of.
STORYTELLING On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
Novels and movies can inspire me to think more deeply about my life and what it means to be human.
STORYTELLING On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I consider myself a religious or spiritual person and am always cultivating that side of me.
TRANSCENDENCE On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree
I knew from an early age that I wanted to make the world a better place.
PURPOSE On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is Strongly Disagree and 5 is Strongly Agree

What Makes Your Life Meaningful?