by Michael F. Steger
My work on meaning in life is part of my meaning in life. If this sounds a bit confusing, I agree.
I never went out into the world with the intention of studying meaning in life. I was just curious, and stayed curious, about learning how people tried to figure out what they were doing here on Earth. I wanted to hear those stories—from anyone, from anywhere, from anytime—because, I suppose, it gave me a wider and more diverse appreciation for how I might approach my own life.
But that quest never seemed too closely connected to the various life purposes I had, like being a good partner and parent, trying to help people, trying to live gently and to protect nature.
In graduate school, I realized that “meaning in life” was the closest name for my curiosity quest, and I couldn’t wait to start using what I was learning about the scientific research method to keep learning. My real purpose then was to do whatever it took to make meaning in life a legitimate and respected field of study.
However, after a few years, an unexpected phenomenon started happening. At conferences or in emails, people would tell me that my academic writings (that I assumed no normal person would ever voluntarily read!) had inspired them, or that they had used some of my work to enact incredible, life-changing programs for kids with cancer, prisoners, overworked nurses, orphans, and on and on. People would tell me I gave them hope, helped change their life, or made them able to change the lives of others.
I didn’t believe it at first, but eventually it dawned on me that I could actually help other people through my job. My job of studying meaning in life could be an important part of my own meaning. This phenomenon is why my meaning course exists! It really is meaningful to me (and fun!) to help others better understand and create more meaning and purpose in their lives.
Find out about the Meaning in Life course, beginning August 26, with live webinars every Thursday from 12:00–1:30 ET. Registration is open now.
Michael F. Steger, PhD, is a professor of psychology and the founding director of the Center for Meaning and Purpose at Colorado State University. His research focuses on how people flourish through building meaning and purpose in their lives and work. His published works include two widely used measurement tools, the Meaning in Life Questionnaire and the Work and Meaning Inventory, as well as three co-edited books, The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Positivity and Strengths-Based Approaches at Work, Purpose and Meaning in the Workplace, and Designing Positive Psychology.