top of page

Can Giving Back Help You Discover Your Purpose in Life?

Since ancient times, people have believed that living a fulfilling life includes giving to others. According to Aristotle, the path to happiness and fulfilment is "to love rather than to be loved." Relationships with others are "a crucial aspect of a healthy, well-lived existence," according to psychologist Carol Ryff, who studied the works of several philosophers throughout history.

However, many of us now seem to be fighting to find meaning in our lives by accumulating accomplishments and isolating ourselves from others due to our extensive work schedule.

Are we going in the wrong direction? We are learning what we can do to harness the benefits as new research continues to show that being nice and helpful makes us feel as though our lives have meaning.

Relationships and leading a purposeful life

Psychologists frequently distinguish between two sorts of well-being: hedonic well-being (a feeling of happiness) and eudaimonic well-being (a sense of meaning and purpose). Despite the fact that happiness and meaning often go hand in hand, researchers hypothesized that finding meaning in life depends particularly heavily on giving back to others.

Roy Baumeister of Florida State University recently conducted research to examine these and other variations between happiness and meaning. The researchers looked for characteristics and behaviors that were associated with happiness (but not meaningfulness) and vice versa in a survey of over 300 participants. Strong social ties were found to be crucial for both happiness and meaning, according to the study. Helping those in need and identifying as a "giver" in relationships, however, were only connected to meaning.

These and other distinctions between happiness and meaning were the subject of recent research by Roy Baumeister of Florida State University. In a survey of more than 300 participants, the researchers searched for traits and behaviors that were connected to happiness (but not meaning) and vice versa. The study concluded that meaningful relationships are essential for both happiness and happiness. However, being a "provider" in relationships and lending a helping hand to people in need were only related to meaning.

Does giving encourage a sense of purpose?

But do acts of kindness and generosity (referred to as "prosocial behavior") genuinely make us feel as though our lives have more significance? Although it may seem obvious that giving to others goes hand in hand with living a meaningful life, there could be a number of alternative reasons behind this: Maybe people who feel like their lives have purpose are more inclined to help others, or maybe something else, like being religious, makes people more likely to be helpful and feel like their lives have more significance.

Daryl Van Tongeren and his coworkers recently released a paper in The Journal of Positive Psychology that intended to investigate this connection. In a pilot study, the researchers asked more than 400 people to describe how frequently they engage in various acts of altruism (like volunteering) and how fulfilling they find their lives to be. Altruistic participants expressed a deeper feeling of meaning and purpose in their lives.

In a subsequent study, the researchers tested the hypothesis that expressing thankfulness, which is seen as a prosocial emotion, may actually lead people to feel more meaningful. In this study, some volunteers wrote thank-you notes to people who had made a difference in their lives, while other individuals wrote on different subjects. The study's findings revealed that those who wrote letters of gratitude later on said their lives were more meaningful than the other participants. Since subjects were randomly allocated to write on thankfulness or other themes, it appears that communicating a prosocial emotion genuinely boosted their sense of purpose. This study also tackles the important question of causality.

Why Can Giving Back Make Life More Fulfilling?

Van Tongeren says that while doing good deeds strengthens our interpersonal connections, they may help us attain fulfilment. The participants were surveyed regarding their prosocial behavior, sense of purpose in life, and degree of relationship satisfaction in order to evaluate this hypothesis. They discovered a connection between prosocial activity and a sense of purpose in life, and that connection was partially explained by relationship satisfaction, or more specifically, the caliber of people's connections.

An investigation from 2010 and its results were presented in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. This article argues that when we choose to act in a prosocial way, it aids in satisfying our fundamental psychological needs for autonomy (the conviction that our acts have been freely chosen), competence (the conviction that we are capable and good), and connectedness (feeling close to others).

In one experiment testing this theory, participants were either given the option to donate money to a study participant of their choice or were instructed by the researchers on how much to give. Giving more money was associated with greater well-being and a sense of having their psychological needs addressed for individuals who freely decided how much to contribute (but not for people who were told how much to give). Importantly, that emotion explained why there was a connection between giving and happiness, indicating that happiness may be enhanced by giving because it satisfies our psychological needs.

Together, these two findings imply that giving to others is advantageous because it satisfies fundamental human wants and that altruism may be particularly crucial for fostering our interpersonal connections.

How To Enhance Your Sense Of Purpose

According to the studies mentioned above, donating makes us feel more connected to others, which gives our life a sense of purpose. Do you desire to have a more fulfilling life? You can start by implementing the ideas below.

Begin Modestly

Grand gestures are not necessary in begin; even modest actions taken on a daily basis can affect both the wellbeing of others and your own. For instance, a Science study found that spending just $5 on someone else increased satisfaction. Using techniques from the Eliciting Altruism practice, such as simply telling yourself about your connections to everyone else and recognizing those who might need your assistance, you can develop a habit of giving and kindness.

Make An Effort To Help.

In fact, not all forms of donating have the same impacts on us. The Making Helping Feel Good practice provides methods for doing good deeds that also make you feel good about yourself. When you can clearly see the effects of your efforts, assisting others can be very beneficial.

Spend Some Time Expressing Gratitude To People.

The research provided here has demonstrated that being grateful to others can also be a prosocial act. Making others feel valued when they go out of their way for you can enhance your bond with them and provide significance to your life. This task provides advice on how to draught a gratitude letter similar to those in Van Tongeren's study.


Recent studies provided data to back up the claim that meaningfulness and service to others go hand in hand. Giving back is not just enjoyable for those who have already discovered their life's purpose. Instead, providing assistance to others can give us the sense of purpose we need. We can find the solutions outside of ourselves, in human connection, rather than obsessing over what makes our existence meaningful while we move toward breakdown.

11 views0 comments


Justin Brennan

Trending Articles

bottom of page