Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that.
A new and growing body of research within psychology about meaningfulness confirms the wisdom of Eliot’s novel — that meaning is found not in success and glamour but in the mundane. One research study showed that adolescents who did household chores felt a stronger sense of purpose. Why? The researchers believe it’s because they’re contributing to something bigger: their family. Another study found that cheering up a friend was an activity that created meaning in a young adult’s life. People who see their occupations as an opportunity to serve their immediate community find more meaning in their work, whether it’s an accountant helping his client or a factory worker supporting her family with a paycheck.