Can Helping Others Help You Find Meaning in Life?
Elizabeth Hopper (2016)
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What is the Science?

In recent years, an increasing amount of research has been done into the science of the meaningful life. It turns out that building strong relationships and helping others are positively correlated with a more meaningful life. Recent studies have found that those who have strong social connections often have both happy and meaningful lives. Additionally, helping others is connected with both having a meaningful life and having strong social connections. More research needs to be done to explore this connection further, but in the meantime, we can start looking outside ourselves for meaning and contribute positively to our world.

“Rather than ruminating on what makes our life worthwhile as we work toward burnout, we can find the answer outside ourselves, in human connection.”
– Elizabeth Hopper

What is the Theology?

Building relationships and helping others are all important parts of the Christian life. However, unlike the emphasis in this article, Christians are called to do these things not because it might help them personally, but because they are called to participate in God’s kingdom building activity. Ever since God made a covenant with Abraham and promised that “all the families of the earth” (NRSV Gen 12:3) would be blessed through Abraham and his posterity, God has invited God’s people to join him in his plans for the world. In the New Testament, Jesus invites his followers to “do as I have done to you,” (John 13:15) after serving them in the act of footwashing. Christians find meaning as they help others in their service to God.

What to Consider

  • Identify some meaningful moments you have experienced in your life? What impact did others have on these moments? How were others involved or not involved?
  • Think about someone from your life that helped you when you were in need. Are you still in a relationship with this person? Has this relationship contributed meaning to your life?
  • What relationships in your life have been life-giving and meaningful? How might you invest more deeply into these positive relationships?

How to go Deeper

  • Hold a congregational service day connecting congregants to community members in need. Emphasize relationship-building among both congregants and community members.
  • Regularly share stories of positive transformation that have been made possible because of the generosity of congregants.
  • Have congregants write a letter of gratitude thanking someone that helped them when they were in need. Encourage them to meet with the person face-to-face and read the letter to them.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.

4 Comments

  1. Reed Metcalf February 16, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    This is some interesting data (though it is a bit out of my wheelhouse). I wonder how the perceived levels of happiness/purposeful life change based on the reaction of the altruistic receiver. If Jon altruistically gives to Tim in a way that gives immediate and necessary improvement to Tim’s life, would Jon feel the same level of happiness and purpose whether Tim was thankful or not? It seems to me that burnout–mentioned several times in the article–is not only induced by heavy work, but also by a lack of recognition or appreciation for the hard work done. Just curious whether this factor was taken into account, though I imagine there are plenty of variables that need consideration in a soft science like this.

    • matt@ncstudycenter.org July 7, 2017 at 3:51 pm

      Great question! Zach, do you know if this was taken into account or not?

      • Zach Ellis July 8, 2017 at 9:11 pm

        Good question. It doesn’t say in this linked article if they considered that or not. However, there is a substantial amount of research on gratitude (much of which is concerned with expressing thanks, not necessarily receiving it) that likely plays into this as well.

  2. matt@ncstudycenter.org July 7, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    How can “meaningful lives” be measured, scientifically? By survey results about the level of meaning that respondents claim to have in their life?

    This seems very difficult to measure in a scientific way.

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