life meaning

What Gives Your Life Meaning?

I recently read a report from a survey done by Pew Research Center on “What Makes Life Meaningful.” Respondents from 17 developed countries were asked to rank 17 topics for importance in bringing meaning into their lives. While responses varied from country to country, on a global basis, number one was family. Number two was occupation or career, followed in order by material wellbeing, friends, and mental and physical health (which were combined into one category).

It’s interesting that people put material wellbeing ahead of health and emotional wellbeing. Yet, when you consider that money affects every aspect of our lives, this makes sense. And it reminded me that financial life planners and financial therapists are in the wellbeing business. Physicians and mental health practitioners address physical and emotional wellbeing. We address emotional and financial wellbeing. True wellbeing requires all three.

At the heart of a financial plan, then, needs to be what brings meaning into your life. This is where we get to the difference between financial wellbeing and material wellbeing as it was used in the study. A dollar bill in itself probably doesn’t bring a lot of meaning into your life. What brings us meaning is what that dollar can buy. Money is converted into material wellbeing, which begins with basic food, shelter, clothing, and transportation and expands to include comfort, financial security, and providing for wants as well as needs. Money can also provide access to all the other elements of wellbeing.

Money touches all of the top five things people prioritized in the survey:

  1. Family: Wellbeing includes providing materially for your family, nurturing children’s talents, spending time together, and so many other things that involve money.
  2. Career: Obviously, this is how you earn money, as well as how you hopefully find meaning and fulfillment. If you spend an excessive amount of time earning money, the impact on other aspects of your wellbeing, like family and health, can be negative.
  3. Material wellbeing. Being able to provide for basic needs and wants is foundational to a meaningful life.
  4. Friends. Spending time with friends and cultivating friendships involves money in many ways.
  5. Mental and physical health. Whether you are paying insurance premiums and co-pays or paying taxes that provide government-funded health care, taking care of your health has a financial cost.

You might want to dig further into the study through the link above. I found it a fascinating study that really identified some specific ways that money is related to wellbeing and meaning. It emphasizes how important it is to address wellbeing and meaning in your financial plan.

I also recommend that you consider the question of what makes life worth living for you. Answering that question is an essential part of any journey toward financial and emotional health.

Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.

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