Meaning in life is central to individual and societal flourishing. People must believe that they have the power to live meaningful lives. The good news is that the majority of Americans do believe they have this power, but there are reasons for concern that should inspire our society to focus more on understanding the factors that promote meaning in life.
A large body of research reveals that meaning is important for mental, physical, and even financial well-being. People who view their lives as meaningful are not only more satisfied with their lives, but they are less at risk of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. Meaning in life also predicts gains in household income and net worth over time.
The more people believe that they have a meaningful role to play in the world, the more inspired they are to behave in ways that help keep them alive and thriving. Meaning also orients people toward helping others. Indeed, based on studies my colleagues and I conducted, the more people are focused on living a meaningful life, the more likely they are to engage in prosocial behavior such as volunteering and charitable giving.