Thanks to our friends at Cambridge Dictionaries Online for the following definitions:
(IMPORTANCE) – Importance or value
(EXPRESSION) – What something represents or expresses
(REASON) – An intention or aim; a reason for doing something or for allowing something to happen
(RESULT) – An intended result or use
Assigning or discovering meaning and purpose to our experiences is a uniquely human ability. This ability is often responsible for driving us to our highest highs and through our lowest lows, and can quite literally save our lives. For a brief yet powerful overview of this, please check out “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. It’s an amazing book by a man whose work has profoundly impacted my life as well as my counseling approach and practice.
I am often struck with how easily we interchange meaning and purpose in our conversations. It’s understandable; as you examine them they have very similar traits. However, I believe that these words play complementary yet specifically different roles in our lives.
Purpose, as I see it, is the broad strokes or the theme we set for our individual stories. Meaning is what we find in the moment to moment, day to day of our activities and experiences as we write these stories. Meaning can be intentionally applied to our activities and it can be assigned to or pulled out of events or circumstances that are beyond our control as we cling to and pursue purpose. Stated more simply, meaning is the momentum that propels us to fulfill our purpose.