How to Help a Teen Who Feels Purposeless

It’s normal for everyone to wonder about their purpose. Unfortunately, our mind can spiral to a darker place, getting to the point where you wonder, “What is the point of life?” These feelings can sometimes lead to or accompany depression or hopelessness.

As a parent, it can feel scary when a teenager wonders if there’s any purpose to life. They are so young, and you know they have so much ahead of them, but sometimes there’s no rationalizing these types of feelings away. If you have a teen who feels purposeless, this article will explore what gives our lives meaning and some tips for helping your teen find hope and purpose in their own life.

What Gives Life Meaning?

Many different things can give life meaning, and these vary from one person to the next. Some people believe the purpose of life is to make the world a better place. Others find meaning in their relationships with family and friends. Spirituality helps some people discover the point in life. While others might find meaning in their personal fulfillment, work, hobbies, or creative passions. And some may feel that the point of life is simply to enjoy it as much as possible. Let your teen know that there is no right or wrong answer.

What gives our lives meaning is what we believe is most important to us. Everyone’s answer will be different. If your teen is feeling lost or uncertain about the point of life, help them explore what matters most to them. What are their values and beliefs? What do they enjoy doing? What makes them feel happy and fulfilled? If they don’t know, tell your teen to try lots of different activities and approach each one with curiosity. As they try different things, they should reflect about which activities seem to energize them or feel meaningful. Additionally, remind your teen that finding the point in life can be difficult and can also change over your lifetime. It’s important they treat themselves with kindness and compassion as they consider these big questions and also be prepared to reevaluate their purpose as they mature. These are valuable life skills that will help them feel contentment throughout their lifetime.

Tips to Give Teens for Finding Purpose

There are many different ways to find meaning in your life. These strategies can help your teen explore their own purpose:

Identifying Values. Our values are ideas that we closely identify with and are willing to pursue and defend. Values govern the way we behave, communicate and interact with others. When we are aware of what we value, we tend to find activities and set goals that match those beliefs. Encourage your teen to explore what they most value and then pursue activities and goals that are in alignment with their core beliefs.

Helping Others. Research has found that volunteers feel more connected to other people and tend to have a stronger sense that their life has meaning. Volunteering your time can be very fulfilling. Helping others refocuses our minds away from our own problems and instead provides us social connection. If you can show your teen, through example, how enriching it is, they’ll start to make an association between helping someone else and their own joy. Service projects can help youth develop empathy for others and realize how fortunate they are in comparison. In addition, volunteerism provides youth with a sense of personal responsibility to contribute to the larger community. To learn more about this concept, please read our previous blog, Community Service for Youth.

Cultivating Relationships. The Harvard Study of Adult Development is the longest scientific study of how to lead healthy and happy lives, and it determined that close relationships are incredibly important to our wellbeing.  The researchers discovered that connecting with people we care about and who care about us was a better predictor of long and happy lives than money, fame, social class, our IQ, cholesterol levels, or our genetic makeup. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Healthy and supportive interpersonal relationships are essential for both physical and mental health. Let teens know that relationships in all their forms — friendships, romantic partnerships, families, coworkers, tennis partners, book club members, Bible study groups, etc. — all contribute to a happier, healthier life. Investing your energy in these relationships can be helpful when you are looking for meaning or a sense of purpose.

Pursuing Your Interests. Pursuing interests we enjoy can be an effective way to bring purpose into our lives. Encourage your teen to focus on doing an activity that is meaningful to them, whether it involves pursuing a career interest, developing creative skills, or simply enjoying leisurely pastimes. If they don’t have something they consider interesting, suggest that they try out some new hobbies or activities that they haven’t tried before.

Practicing Gratitude. Years of research convincingly shows that the act of expressing thankfulness can reduce depression, increase hope and/or motivation, strengthen relationships, boost resilience, and improve overall health. Making an effort to practice gratitude regularly, whether you take a few moments each day to mentally focus on grateful thoughts or you write in a gratitude journal, can help you become more aware of the good things in life. Over time, this practice may help shift your perspective. Instead of feeling that life is pointless, you’ll begin to see all of the simple joys that give life meaning. For more information, please read our previous blog, Encouraging Gratitude in Teens.

When to Seek Help

If your teen tries the tips above and is still struggling to find meaning in their life, please seek professional help. Your teen might be suffering from depression or another mental health issue. Talk to your pediatrician to get connected with a trusted counselor or therapist.

Final Thoughts…

Everyone goes through periods where they question what the point of life is. Remember that there is no right or wrong answer. What matters most is choosing to live your life in a way that aligns with your values and honors what you believe is most important.

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