In today’s productivity-driven world, we sometimes struggle to find the meaning of it all. Despite the work we do, it can feel like it doesn’t matter in the big picture. Ironically, social workers and lawyers note that people rendering court-ordered community service can find meaning in their duties.

Helping others can provide purposeful work. Local organizations, such as the Department of Social Services (DSS) in Glen Burnie or the Anne Arundel Community College (AACC), facilitate events where you can volunteer. You can also inquire or make a proposal directed towards helping specific groups such as child abuse victims or the elderly or disabled.

The modern search for meaning

A 2004 study of nearly 140,000 participants across 132 countries revealed that, as might be expected, people in wealthier regions rate higher for happiness than those who lived in more impoverished locations. However, the correlation is reversed when it comes to meaning – more respondents coming from wealthy countries reported a lack of meaning in their lives, compared to those from poor countries. Other disturbing indicators, such as juvenile delinquency rates have been found to correspond with these survey results.

In her book, The Power of Meaning, author Emily Esfahani Smith states that having a purpose involves making a contribution to the world. And this doesn’t have to be something grand or big. Actively working to become a better parent or a member of your community, for example, can create this sense of purpose.

Individuals with a sense of purpose can find that it is a positive feedback mechanism – that is, taking the extra effort to become involved in a worthy activity gives you more energy, more drive, and resilience. If you are driven to make a difference and can see your efforts bear fruit, then your life becomes more meaningful.

Volunteering to make a difference

The issue may be in part due to incorrect expectations. We spend so much time and energy at work that it creates a subconscious expectation for impact – that somehow, the job we do is making a difference in the world. Some occupations reflect this more than others. In healthcare, for instance, you can witness the patient’s recovery and improved quality of life. But for many people, there is a lack of connection between all the effort they put in at work and the resulting output in society.

The practical solution instead is to seek purpose outside of work. And volunteering provides an accessible avenue to meaningful activity in our lives. By becoming more involved with your community, you can help out in local activities and work with people around you. Connecting with other people also helps you grow, and increases your social skill in a world that has become withdrawn and focused on the individual. The influence of your volunteer work will thus be present in your life and remind you of what a difference your efforts have made.

Local organizations and events and beyond

While the search for meaning can always begin at home, with one’s family, there are also opportunities to serve the community through events conducted by local organizations. The Anne Arundel County DSS organizes benefits for the homeless, children in foster care, and parents of young children, among others. The AACC works to connect volunteers – along with many of its own students and employees – to organizations and causes.

Depending on the cause, your volunteer work may also lead to additional training and experience, or even opportunities to travel and extend your help further. Not everyone can quit their job in the search for meaning, but it just might happen that going the extra mile in volunteering ends up giving you a purposeful life and work that matters.

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