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Meaning vs Purpose – How Are They Different and Why Does It Matter?

One of my deepest passions is to help moms enjoy peace of mind and live a fulfilling life, with meaning and purpose.

This is not only because I feel that my life has meaning and purpose, but also because I know what it’s like to feel like I have no life purpose and to lack personal meaning.

Contrast is a teacher!

That’s why moms in my community often ask me, “How are meaning and purpose different?” So today I’m going to compare meaning vs purpose and discuss this with you!

If you and I were sitting over a cup of herbal tea and shared our definition of each, there would probably be a blurring of the lines. 

Even though meaning and purpose are often used interchangeably, there’s a bit of difference between the word meaning and the word purpose.

When we understand these nuances, we can really tap into true life satisfaction – in all aspects of life.

What is meaning?

When you think of meaning, you tend to think of the big concepts, the meaning of life. Meaning is the real or perceived definition of something.

The meaning people assign to something depends largely on their belief systems, and is not necessarily rooted in reality. 

A sense of meaning can often be associated with people following a specific dream. And it doesn’t have to be that complex.

Every life is a meaningful life and every life has meaning. 

As a mom, you may define everything in the context of what you do as a caregiver and a protector for your children. That helps you feel like your life is meaningful.

As a mom entrepreneur, you may find life meaning through the help you provide to people. Whether that’s through client work, services, products, or content you share, your aim is to help people solve life’s problems.

As human beings, we may such as personal development, philanthropy, or anything that is focused on contributing to others. care for a plant, for an animal, for the environment, and we feel like our life has meaning when we are contributing in this way.

You can decide on what it all means and this meaning can be empowering or disempowering, conscious or unconscious. 

In March of 1996, I was kidnapped, and then in October, I was in a nearly fatal car crash. This was when I first understood meaning vs purpose.

Even though I survived both near-death experiences, the first experience left me with extreme depressive symptoms, while the second experience left me with a strong sense of purpose.

Why? It was because of the meaning I assigned to each experience.

What helps me find peace is to remind myself that “everything works together for good.

Because of this, the predominant belief and expectation are that whatever is happening is “part of God’s plan.” 

As you look around today, you have the power to decide what the meaning of your life is and the meaning of – or the reason behind -your own experiences.

You already impact others in thousands of little ways too – maybe millions – and you can choose to be more intentional in seeing that.

What is purpose?

The word purpose implies the larger outcome we are going after and the potential something can become.

Purpose is defined as the reason why something exists, and this applies to things, places, people, and even situations.

For example, the purpose of a broom is to sweep. Flour is multi-purpose because it can be used in many ways. 

But… What is the purpose of life?

Some may say it’s the pursuit of happiness, others the pursuit of knowledge, growth, and evolution. Others would simply say it’s their contribution to others.

Many times, we find ourselves stuck and thinking that there’s no purpose. In order for purpose to be believable, it has to be achievable.

Whenever I am struggling to see the purpose of my life, my faith in God, my Higher Power, has the biggest impact in bringing me to a better place.

Believing that God has a purpose for my being alive and being here, especially with surviving so much, creates positive emotions that help me hang on even amidst an extremely painful stressful event or situation.

Another way to find purpose is by focusing on the awareness of the shortness of life and a determination to do something with our time: No regrets!

As a mom, you may feel that your purpose is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for your children to grow up in. 

That’s why you do what you do – to see them grow into a healthy, well-adjusted person and be ready for the challenges of life. 

As a mompreneur, your purpose or your why may be both towards financial freedom, providing for our families and giving generously to others, and also to help people on their own journey.

As you reflect upon what you are here to do and achieve, you can find purpose in your life.

Meaning vs Purpose – What’s the difference?

A key difference between meaning and purpose is that meaning is a psychological concept because it’s about the significance of life, while purpose is more of a spiritual principle.

Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, and expert in positive psychology put it this way:

Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a secondary rationalization of instinctual drives.

We are always searching for meaning – in everything that we do.

Purpose can be seen as your potential in life – and it’s often tied to a calling that you believe you’ve been assigned – what you came to life to do and how you’re going carry it out.

I find meaning and purpose in my faith.

That’s why my faith plays a huge part in my survival. When I’m connected to God, it’s easy for me to believe my life has purpose and that I will have the strength to fulfill it.

A particular Bible verse that always helps me is Philippians 4:3, which is prominently displayed on a wall in my home:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” 

Meaning is how we unconsciously or deliberately choose to interpret the events of our lives. And we stack those meanings, whether they are positive or negative.

For example, as I became a Student of Pain and got to know Jesus Christ as my Savior, the trauma, tragedy, and turmoil in my life has taken a new meaning.

So instead of believing these experiences to mean that I’m alone, that I’m unlovable, and that God doesn’t care, they mean that I’m being prepared and purified and that they lead to positive growth. 

So whether we are stacking all the negatives, or stacking all the positives in our lives, we come to answer the philosophical question “What is the meaning of life?” with a different, more empowering answer. 

Etymology and Thoughts on Meaning vs Purpose

The word “meaning” comes from the Greek “logos” meaning reason, cause, expectations. The word “telos,” which is “purpose” means results, end, aim. This gives us a clear difference in the meaning vs purpose dilemma.

So with the broom example, when it’s being used to sweep, it’s fulfilling its purpose, but the meaning or reason behind your sweeping can be to impress someone who’s visiting or to have an orderly home where the Spirit of God can live and where creativity can flourish.

When we see in fiction that a broom is used as a method of aerial transportation or as an enchanted being to fetch pales of water, we instinctively know the broom is fulfilling a purpose that is very different for which it was created, and it takes on a different meaning.

Everything that has been created has purpose.

You have a purpose… and we find real meaning as we fulfill the reason and expectations that come with that purpose.

Your work is what you do, the purpose is the intention with which you do it, the impact is the outcome of what you did, and meaning is the reason why you did it.

Both meaning and purpose can be perceived or imagined, deliberate and unconscious. 

So the way I see it is this: purpose is the reason for being and meaning is the reason for doing.

Why does it matter?

So, does it really matter if you understand the difference between meaning vs purpose? Absolutely!

Understanding your purpose and what can bring more meaning into your life is essential in becoming a more positive mom.

When you understand the key factors that help you forge meaning and feel purpose, they can help you to consciously choose your life’s path.

You become a better mom.

When a mom has found her own purpose and is able to access deeper levels of meaning in every situation, condition, and circumstance, her children and everyone around her are going to be positively impacted and it will result in all having a happier life.

In fact, now that I have an adult daughter who fled the nest last year and is making her own life decisions, I can see just how important it was for me to do my inner work, prioritize my mental health, and be an example for her.

I like this quote by Helen Schucman:

“Every situation, properly perceived, becomes an opportunity.”

It’s part of our human nature to focus on what’s missing or what hurts.

As we allow ourselves to look at different perspectives, we can not only find life lessons but new opportunities that will lead us in the right direction.

The right direction is that which leads us to our purpose and that is filled with meaning along the way.

When we make it a habit to remind ourselves of our purpose and to find meaning in our everyday life, we can find that life is worth living, even when we are in a dark place and asking the big questions that we don’t often know the answer to.

How to consider your meaning and purpose

To sort out these two important concepts and how they fit in your life, I recommend 3 exercises:

1- Get clear on your Core Values.

 What do you value? What’s important to you? This post can help you get started identifying your core values, so you can make decisions that align with them. Identifying your core values will give meaning to every choice you make. You can also establish company values to guide your business decisions. 

2- Write a Vision Statement.

A vision statement describes what you want to achieve in the future, although we write it in the present tense. The Bible says “without a vision, the people perish.” Reading your vision statement inspires you with renewed sense of purpose.

3- Write a Mission Statement for your life

A mission statement describes how you want to live each day of your life. It gives both meaning and purpose to what you do because you are focused on why you do it. It guides your daily thoughts, words, and actions.

To consider meaning in your life, you could ask yourself the following questions:
  • Who and what do I love?
  • Which activities make me feel joy?
  • What makes me feel sad?
  • Which activities do I most look forward to?
  • What are different ways in which I find peace in my day-to-day life?
  • Which trivial motherhood activities do I cherish and why?
  • What are different meanings I have found for difficult situations?
  • What are the activities that make me feel completely in the zone?
To consider purpose in your life, you could ask yourself:
  • What do I want to most be remembered for after I’ve gone?
  • If I found out today I have one year to live, what would I do with it?
  • What do people turn to me for help with that comes easy to me?
  • What’s my answer to the question ‘I am here to…’
  • Who do I want my children to grow up to be?
  • What would I want my children to say about the way I raised them?
  • How do people feel when they are in my presence?
  • What does the ideal world I would create look like?

To understand meaning vs purpose, you can also use my growth mindset journal prompts (inspired by Carol Dweck’s book Mindset) to explore the beliefs behind what gives your life meaning and purpose.

Using meaning and purpose in life

Learning more about your meaning and purpose in life is one of the mind tools that can create a positive impact in motherhood and every aspect of your life.

In business

Lately, we are seeing more and more business leaders striving to create purpose-driven companies that help people fulfill their employee expectations.

Contrary to the old model where it was all about someone’s financial goal, great leaders are looking to fulfill both intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. They do that with benefit programs, flexible work arrangements, education goals, and healthy workplace culture. 

In motherhood

Our go-to response as moms, when asked about the meaning of our life, is to talk about our children and their future, because it is what drives our behaviors, even when it’s hard.

And yet, when we are on purpose and find meaning in the little things, we can be more patient, more present, and more playful, and show up as the mom we really want to be.

In life

It helps you to be more present in your life, to live in integrity with who you’re supposed to be and to live in a more conscious way.

Having meaning and purpose doesn’t mean you’re always doing something.

As long as what you are doing is out of a meaningful choice, such as resting and relaxing, you can do nothing and that has meaning and a purpose.

When we think our life is meaningful it’s because it has or adds significance or value. When something is meaningful, it improves, builds, and elevates. The meaning we give something is what makes it meaningful or meaningless.

That’s why it’s empowering to ponder what is both meaningful and important and what is meaningless and unimportant to you personally. This will allow you to discern and decide accordingly.

What is meaning? What is purpose?

Even as we deeply analyze these English words and look at many translations and etymology, I believe it’s inevitable that we will continue to have questions about them.

The key is to live with gratitude and intention, making daily choices that align with our values, and aiming for future goals that will bring us peace of mind and make a positive impact in the world.

What do you consider to be the difference of meaning vs purpose? Share with us in the comments below.

Elayna Fernandez - Bestselling Author - 
Transformational Trainer and Keynote Speaker - Mentor to Mom Entrepreneurs

© Elayna Fernández ~ The Positive MOM
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