How do meaning and purpose relate? (quotes)


Purpose is what we are here to do and why and meaning is the significance of that doing


Meaning and purpose are related

  • How many times have you gotten to the end the day and thought, “What did I really do today?” If you could begin to see how meaning and purpose are different but related, would it create a greater sense of integrity in your life? Would you have fewer of those moments that seem to just slip away? Jodi Harris
  • Meaning and purpose are related to each other. They don’t run parallel, they are interwoven – one supports the other and vice versa. They are different, but they matter so much to each other. Jodi Harris
  • A purpose is a real or an imagined belief that something has a use or a reason for being. Meaning is the value or values which are assigned to that belief.  Michelle O’Connor

Sometimes “meaning” and “purpose” are used interchangeably in referring to the worth of something

  • Sometimes “meaning” and “purpose” are interchangeable, and sometimes they’re very different. Meaning can be something that is important to you. My dogs are meaningful to me, my work is meaningful to me, life and veterans and freedom are all meaningful to me. I value them, I appreciate them, they satisfy me. Purpose can also be something that is important to you: I find purpose in the work that I do, the writing I create, the effort I make to support my family. I value them also, and appreciate them, and they satisfy me. Duane France
  • Meaning can be used interchangeably with purpose when it refers to the worth of something. Hofa

Purpose is what we are here to do and why…

  • Purpose implies a larger reason for why we take time to do the things that create meaning in our lives. Jodi Harris
  • Purpose: Why you do something or why something exists.  Cambridge Dictionary
  • Purpose of Life is a goal to work towards — something you want to accomplish. Meaning of Life is the reason you continue to work towards those goals — the love of your family, for example.  Michael J Hornblower

…while meaning is the significance and importance we ascribe to our doing…

  • Significance: The quality of being important : the quality of having notable worth or influence.  Merriam Webster
  • Important: Having serious meaning or worth. Merriam Webster
  • While other creatures also are driven to contribute to something larger than their own evolutionary success, what is uniquely human is the meaning that we are able to ascribe to those efforts. In other words, the impacts of our actions, and what purpose they serve. So without making meaning of the impact of our actions, and why they matter in a larger sense, over time, we are not fulfilling our human potential. We’re just ants building a hill. Scott Barry Kaufman
  • Meaning in life is thought to be the sense made of, and significance felt regarding, the nature of one’s being and existence. Dr Michael Steger
  • Meaning: The symbolic value of something. Purpose:  An object to be reached; a target; an aim; a goal. WikiDiff
  • Meaning can also refer to implied or explicit significance. Hofa
  • To mean something is to have value, to be definable, to feel significant. Kinza Z
  • Purpose: What you are here to do. Meaning: Why it is important or significant to yourself and others. Anthony Lambert
  • Meaning is the emotional significance of what we do; the importance we ascribe to something. It’s why we do what we do. Meaning doesn’t just exist on its own, it’s something we create and feel, and it’s closely linked to motivation. Michael Miller
  • Meaning: Implication of a hidden or special significance.  Merriam Webster
  • Meaning: Importance or value.  Cambridge Dictionary
  • While other creatures also are driven to contribute to something larger than their own evolutionary success, what is uniquely human is the meaning that we are able to ascribe to those efforts. In other words, the impacts of our actions, and what purpose they serve. So without making meaning of the impact of our actions, and why they matter in a larger sense, over time, we are not fulfilling our human potential. We’re just ants building a hill. Scott Barry Kaufman
  • If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and if we can affirm no values whatsoever,” the philosopher Albert Camus wrote in The Rebel, “then everything is possible and nothing has any importance.” Arthur C. Brooks
  • Impact: Marked effect. Meaning: Significance to you. Purpose: Reason for doing.  Scott Barry Kaufman
  • Meaning: the implied or explicit significance.  Purpose is ‘the reason for which something is done.’ Scott Barry Kaufman
  • The meaning of life focuses on the significance of life. The meaning is a psychological concept. In turn, purpose is a spiritual concept of life. In this case, purpose is the course of action that is to be embarked on. Gregg Swanson

…especially the significance to others of the outcomes of our purpose

  • To have a meaningful life is to feel that our thoughts, actions, efforts, ideas, have counted, mattered, endured, resonated, to others. Umair Haque
  • If the end of your purpose doesn’t genuinely make people a little happier, wiser, truer, better — then you yourself will realize no meaning from it. Umair Haque
  • It is in the benefit that we give — freely, generously, whole heartedly, authentically — we discover that our lives mean something to others. When we have a positive impact, a human benefit, then the reward is our lives begin to hold meaning. So your sense of meaning is in the happiness that others enjoy — not that you enjoy. Umair Haque

Purpose is a mountain while meaning is a waterfall

  • Meaning is a waterfall. Purpose is a mountain. Now, your goal in this little life is to find a mountain with a waterfall on top of it. Not every mountain has a waterfall atop it. Not every purpose holds a meaning. Some purposes are meaningless. And the art of choosing a purpose well is as much as about picking something you can do proficiently, diligently, creatively, enjoyably, profitably, as it is about something that matters to begin with. It’s eminently possible to master a throughly meaningless discipline, and this is one of the great life mistakes that people make. Umair Haque
  • When you’ve led people to the river, and they’re drinking deep, then you are filled up, too. Not materially, but in a truer and deeper way: existentially, as a human being. Umair Haque
  • The challenges are climbing the right mountain, finding the waterfall, and then leading people to the river. Umair Haque

Meaning is subjective and internal while purpose is external and universal


Some argue purpose is universal while meaning is subjective and relevant to the individual

  • To ask after the purpose or end of human life is at once to create a field for practical moral questions – How should we live? For what end should I act? – and to frame that field in the context of fundamentally metaphysical questions – what is the true origin, nature, and destiny of human beings? By contrast, the question of the meaning of life almost seems formulated precisely to avoid both the moral field and metaphysical frame.  Meaning is subjective, placing an emphasis on the interior life, feelings, emotions, awareness, consciousness. Joshua P. Hochschild
  • The meaning of life differs from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Joshua P. Hochschild
  • The question of the purpose of life, if taken seriously, is intrinsically teleological and essentialist. It presumes that there is such a thing as true human fulfillment, rooted in human nature, which reflects a definite purpose or intention of its maker. Joshua P. Hochschild
  • The question of the meaning of life is highly personal. Unlike the question of the end of man, which is a general question about the essential good of human nature as such, the question of the meaning of life is individualistic and particular.  The strength, and the weakness, of the question is that it seems to put the weight of responsibility on the one asking it to supply an answer from his or her own private, inarticulate resources. Joshua P. Hochschild
  • Meaning is subjective and unique to each and every one of us. This is about why we are doing something and the feeling we get from doing it. Jacob Morgan

Meaning is about inner satisfaction while purpose is about outer accomplishment

  • Finding something you enjoy (meaning) that also gives you a sense of accomplishment (purpose) is key to finding balance. They don’t have to come from the same source, either. You can satisfy a sense of purpose in your life by working at your chosen profession, and find a sense of meaning by going home and growing a garden. Duane France

Meaning is the internal push, while purpose is the external pull

  • Meaning is value that we place on things from an internal perspective, and purpose is value that we receive from an external perspective. Meaning is the internal push, while purpose is the external pull. We put them both together because we need both in our lives to be fully satisfied.  Duane France
  • The question of life’s meaning places an emphasis on subjective fulfillment; the question of life’s purpose can include that, but relates the notion of personal fulfillment to a question that draws one outside of oneself: what is my life for, how can I bring my life into its intended order. It is the difference between asking what might happen to make me feel fulfilled given my circumstances, and asking what should fulfill me in light of the true structure of reality. Joshua P. Hochschild

Purpose as part of meaning


Some see meaning as an umbrella term that includes purpose

  • Meaning in life is defined as the broader umbrella term that include purpose. So, meaning in life is based on feelings of significance and mattering about one’s live, being able to make sense of and comprehend one’s life, and having purpose. Purpose is defined as the identification and pursuit of one or more highly important, overarching aims or very long-term goals that help organize life choices and actions. Purpose sits firmly in the future-directed, motivational realm, and is seen as the most observable and active element of meaning. One of the key elements of purpose is that a good purpose might not even be attainable – it is the noble pursuit of an aim worthy of our lives that makes it valuable. Dr Michael Steger
  • There is a general consensus that meaning has at least two major components: the cognitive processing component involves making sense and integrating experiences, and a purpose component, which is more motivational and involves actively pursuing long-term goals that reflect one’s identity and transcends narrow self-interests. Scott Barry Kaufman

Meaning is comprised of three components: coherence, significance, and purpose

  • Despite growing interest in meaning in life, many have voiced their concern over the conceptual refinement of the construct itself. Researchers seem to have two main ways to understand what meaning in life means: coherence and purpose, with a third way, significance, gaining increasing attention. Coherence means a sense of comprehensibility and one’s life making sense. Purpose means a sense of core goals, aims, and direction in life. Significance is about a sense of life’s inherent value and having a life worth living. Frank Martela
  • Meaning has at least two major components: the cognitive processing component involves making sense and integrating experiences, and a purpose component, which is more motivational and involves actively pursuing long-term goals that reflect one’s identity and transcends narrow self-interests. Scott Barry Kaufman
  • Life meaning comprises three dimensions: Coherence, purpose, and significance. Coherence represents our comprehension of life and how it works. Making sense of our life experiences provides a certain degree of certainty and confidence that we need to navigate through life. Purpose refers to the aspirations and dreams that we have for the future, and it serves as an anchor of our motivation in life. Significance is about our sense of the value and importance of our life, and it gives us a sense of “life worth living”. Gregory Arief D Liem

Coherence is our ability to make sense of our life experiences

  • Life is coherent when one is able to discern understandable patterns in it to make the wholeness comprehensible. In other words, meaning as coherence is seen to be about ‘the feeling that one’s experiences or life itself makes sense.’ Frank Martela
  • Meaning in life is often associated with people making sense of the world, rendering it comprehensible and coherent. This is often referred to as the cognitive component of meaning in life, which is about ‘making sense of one’s experiences in life.’ Frank Martela
  • Coherence: how events fit together. This is an understanding that things happen in your life for a reason. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can fit new developments into your narrative the moment they happen, but you usually are able to do so afterward, so you have faith that you eventually will. Arthur C. Brooks
  • Do you feel out of control—tossed about in life without rhyme or reason? If so, you need a better grasp on coherence. Arthur C. Brooks
  • The least livable life is the one without coherence-nothing connects, nothing means anything. Stories make connections. They allow us to see our past, our present, and our future as interrelated and purposeful…. The stories we value most reassure us that life is worth the pain, that meaning is not an illusion, and that others share our experience with us. Daniel Taylor

Purpose is about goals and aims

  • While purpose is in many cases used synonymously with meaning, when a separation between these two concepts is made, purpose refers specifically to having direction and future-oriented goals in life, although different conceptualizations vary in terms of the magnitude and grandeur attributed to purpose. Frank Martela
  • Purpose: the existence of goals and aims. This is the belief that you are alive in order to do something. Think of purpose as your personal mission statement, such as “the purpose of my life is to share the secrets to happiness” or “I am here to spread love abundantly.” Arthur C. Brooks
  • Do you lack big plans, dreams, or ideas for your future that excite you? This is a purpose issue. Arthur C. Brooks

Significance focuses on the value, worth, and importance of what we do (our puspose)

  • Significance focuses on value, worth, and importance. Significance has been understood to be about the worthwhileness and value of one’s life. It is ‘a sense of life’s inherent value.’ Frank Martela
  • Significance: life’s inherent value. This is the sense that your life matters. If you have high levels of significance, you’re confident that the world would be a tiny bit—or perhaps a lot—poorer if you didn’t exist. Arthur C. Brooks
  • Do you feel like it wouldn’t matter if you disappeared, like the world would be no worse—or maybe better—if you did? This is a problem of significance. Arthur C. Brooks

We need all three for a healthy sense of meaning in life

  • You can think of these three dimensions as macronutrients: the elements that we need for a balanced and healthy sense of meaning in life. Arthur C. Brooks

Purpose drives and fulfils meaning

  • Meaning is the end of purpose, which is only a means. Umair Haque
  • Your job is what you do, and your purpose is the intention of the job. Your purpose creates an impact or outcome, which then drives meaning, or why you do what you do. Purpose and meaning are two different, but very important, parts of the equation. Jacob Morgan
  • “Purpose” is based on function – like a hammer is created to drive nails. “Meaning” is about what things result in the end – it is like the over-arching goal. When we ask, “what for?” we ask what does that thing mean to us. Tom Caballes
  • The meaning is fulfilled through purposeful actions. Paul Wong

Purpose is a guiding principle based on meaning

  • Purpose is the cumulative effect of meaningful goals. Purpose is less tangible; we define purpose as a long-term aim or guiding principle based on meaning. It’s the impact we want to have on the world. Michael Miller

Meaning and purpose need to go together


We can have purpose without meaning and meaning without purpose

  • Ever wondered why people who get really, really rich then turn around and spend what’s left of their lives giving their fortunes away? Think about it: why would you spend 2/3 or 3/4 of your life — which is the most valuable thing you have — earning a fortune, only to then try desperately to get rid of it? And yet, it’s an old story: from JP Morgan to Bill Gates to Zuck. The answer’s simple: they got the balance between purpose and meaning deeply, badly wrong. Even though they attained their purpose to the utmost, their purpose held no meaning to begin with, and so now, in that final decade or two, they’re desperate to earn a sense of meaning, which they can only do — there’s no other way — by mattering to others.  Umair Haque

Purpose without meaning fails to engage and motivate

  • Without meaning, impact is neutral: defined as ‘a marked effect or influence,’ by the Oxford English Dictionary. Similarly, purpose without meaning is an ambitious mission that fails to engage or motivate the people required to get it done. Purpose, impact, and meaning are closely related, but they are not synonyms or substitutes. Nell Derick Debevoise
  • It is possible to have purpose without meaning. Ever had a dead-end job, where the only thing it does is put money in your pocket? You didn’t enjoy it, it wasn’t satisfying to you, but the only reason you did it was because you had to. That’s purpose without meaning…and as soon as you find something better, you get out of there. Duane France

Meaning without purpose fails to accomplish anything useful

  • Just like you can have purpose without meaning, you can also have something that satisfies you without actually having a purpose. Six hours of Call of Duty, anyone? Or binge watching Netflix. Sure, you’re entertained, you’re satisfied, but nothing was actually accomplished. Duane France

Purpose and meaning therefore need to go together for true satisfaction

  • Purpose without meaning doesn’t last. Meaning without purpose is not satisfying.  Meaning and purpose together are the key to satisfaction.  Duane France