Feeling connected to the world could help make life seem more meaningful, according to a new study in the journal Psychological Science.
Researchers from the University of Missouri found that feelings of coherence — that is, feeling like things are connected and make sense — are linked with greater feelings of there being a meaning to life.
The study included having study participants take a survey on a computer where they looked at trees as they were going through the seasons. After viewing these images, they answered questions meant to measure their feelings toward the meaning of life, such as “My life has a clear sense of purpose,” as well as questions to measure their mood.
Researchers found that when the study participants viewed photos of the trees in seasonal order — that is, a tree in the summer, followed by a tree in the fall, followed by a tree in the winter, followed by a tree in the spring, etc. — they were more likely to report higher senses of a meaning of life, compared with those who just saw the photos completely out of order. And even if this seasonal pattern was backward — like autumn, then summer, then spring, then winter — they still reported high sense of meaning of life.
Researchers also had study participants do a similar test, but this time with words that had some relation to each other — like the words “falling,” “actor” and “dust” in relation to the word “star” — and also found that those who read word groups like this had greater sense of meaning of life compared with those who read random words lumped together.
Indeed, research shows that feeling like you have a purpose in life could actually have protective benefits for your health. A study published last year from researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center found that people with greater life purpose had slower mental decline rates, even when plaques (which are linked with Alzheimer’s) developed in their brains.