What is a meaningful life?
A meaningful life is something that most of us aspire to. However, knowing what a meaningful life is and how to achieve it is a challenge that most of us face each day.
What is meaning?
We can first turn to the teachings of religions. For instance, in the early story of Gilgamesh, which was half human and half god, we learn how he found the ruling of a planet too easy with his powers. It meant that he was driven to mischiefs and asks the gods to help him live a more challenging life. So, the gods send him a rival, Enkidu. After many challenges, Enkidu – who had become Gilgamesh’s friend – died at the same god’s hands. It leads Gilgamesh to question the meaning of life when you toil only to suffer. He examined his mortality.
Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, survived the Holocaust. Even after seeing so much suffering and so many friends die, he declared that at the heart of a human was purpose and a quest for meaning. He made it clear that whatever freedoms are taken away from humanity, the human’s attitude to life belongs to them. No matter how we suffer, how we face this is our one genuine freedom.
As individuals, we are unique in the choices we make at any given moment. Our meaning is our own. Therefore, to live a life of significance is not a matter of the challenges we face but to discover a way to live life with our unique identity – to live it in our own way.
Why seek meaning?
Having meaning is a source of comfort when life is full of suffering. With this meaning, we can seek positive emotion and a sense of community around us that makes life feel purposeful. Barbara Frederickson proposed the “Broaden and Build Theory,” which shows how positive thinking and positive interactions with others can physically change our brains via neuroplasticity.
Therefore, seeking meaning through positive emotions and positive interactions, aligning our values with others in relationships to shape our brain is one answer to this question. In short, one meaning to life is the building of social relationships.
We can break this idea of meaning does into two parts.
First, there is daily meaning. This is when you practice mindfulness in those moments when you have something positive occur. You are noticing and being present with those micro-moments of emotion.
Second, there is a more significant meaning. This is the purpose that is bigger than us. It is that thing that even at 2 am, you would still take a call. You will have looked at the world, and recognising all the good, also noted those aspects that are broken. Your purpose is to fit it with all the work that you do. Our story is shaped by our conversations with others in our pursuit to ideate. Yet even though we are part of a bigger system, only our knowledge within allows us to understand what really matters.
The lighthouse metaphor
Our purpose is our lighthouse. It is bigger than us and helps us navigate towards it. We orientate ourselves to this goal, and the closer we get, the more content we will be. Living a happy life and a meaningful one is two different things, but they are linked. Indeed, there is interconnectivity throughout our lives, as there are also health benefits from living a meaningful life. Indeed, Dr Russo-Netzer noted that having a life purpose was a predictor for old age and well-being. Those adults concerned with leaving a legacy were happier, more resilient, and healthier into old age than other adults.
A lack of purpose is also often associated with poor mental well-being and many psychological difficulties.
This lighthouse is our organising principle. It gives us direction, which is shaped by our values. There are three blocks to this—first, cognitive comprehension, which is the ability to understand your life experiences. Second, purpose, which motivates you and shows you what you value. Finally, you need to matter in this world; you need to feel your existence is significant in the grander scheme.
Hedonic Well-being and Eudaimonic Wellbeing
Hedonic well-being Is about feeling good, and while it is short-lived, it is vital to our well-being. Receiving praise from your boss might boost you for a time – and is essential to your ongoing sense of purpose at work.
Eudaimonic well-being is more of a journey and a continuous pursuit of learning. We seek to continue to evolve and bring a more profound understanding of our lives. This well-being is much more long-lasting.
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