What is a Meaningful Life?
Throughout human history people have sought out meaning, notably through religious foundations and explored early hierarchies of structure through a Teleological approach by individuals finding meaning and ‘serving a purpose’ within a societal framework. Overlapping and superseding concepts of the Teleological approach involved Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy, scepticism (starting with medieval questioning of Teleology), modern day McMeanings of instant gratification, Teleological present-day mantras around success in the corporate ladder and more. The Phenomenological approach explores meaning for the sake of meaning and love for the sake of love without the need of a direct end result, all the while respecting hierarchies and depth to various forms of meaning.
With respect to Joel Vos for these insights.
What does this all mean? How can I experience more meaning in my life outside of materialism? Can I actually find my purpose?
Four Types of Meaning
Positive Psychology Program B.V 2020 explore four types of meaning that are acknowledged across schools of thought.
- Experience; what meaning can I discover in the current situation I am in?
- Situational; what meaning can I find in a significant event in my life?
- Big; what is the meaning of my life?
- Cosmic; what is the meaning of everything?
Working with this approach we can begin to find daily meaning within our lives; simple family moments, nature, laughter with friends and much more. We can explore resilience methods to understand life events with a more open perspective. We can also begin to organically use our strengths, kindness and individuality to find our Ikigai, exploring our purpose.
Science Based Approach
Meaning is not simply romanticism; neurological studies have shown how babies have primary experiences of the outside world as dots and they formulate these dots to make meaning. Dr Pninit Russo-Netzer suggests that our brains require cognitive comprehension and we must make sense of experiences and bring them together. Complete sensory deprivation can cause our brains to hallucinate in order to make sense and find meaning.
Hedonic pleasures have a place in our lives within a healthy balance for our happiness. These are pleasures that have a positive emotion spike and timeline before you revert back to your pre-level emotions. For example, buying a new car will give you a boost in positive emotions but it will not bring you long term happiness. Drinking alcohol after a stressful day may bring you momentary relief until the effects of such a drink wears off. Studies have shown how individuals with money can be happier if their basic needs are met and they do not have the stresses of finance; albeit studies show that this is limited and many individuals who follow materialism end up less happy than those who approach meaning in a different way. This is where McMeanings and television adverts can fall short on their instant happiness approach.
This type of well-being can be compared to a journey whereby there is continual pleasure and character growth. This form of well-being includes both negative and positive emotions. For example, if you followed your passion as an artist, this life long journey would not be short lived in the same manner as the positive boost from a new car.
How do we begin to discover what our purpose is? How do we start the path of Eudaimonic Well-Being?
It all begins with our values and practicing being present minded to discover such values which work within the idea of the four types of meaning explored earlier.
- Practice mindful thinking; when returning home from work embrace a hug from a loved one, actively listen and practice empathy when speaking to another. We often find it challenging in modern times to not look at a screen every five minutes. Create in depth connections with varying social circles.
- Embrace Nature; find an activity you can partake I within nature, appreciate the weather (even jogging in the rain). The more physically active you become and the more time you spend in nature you will feel more connected and find more humility for your body, mind and the appreciation for our planet.
- Gratitude; practice gratitude each day and write down three things every evening that you were grateful for that day. In doing so, you will find meaning with people and nature. Even appreciating a simple laugh, the taste of coffee in the garden and appreciating that back story to that coffee production (Fair Trade) can help you feel more connected with life and others.
The more you practice these three simple yet powerful points, the more you will see how they fit in to the four types of meaning and how organically your depth of connections with your loved ones, harmony with nature, and appreciation for you being here on this planet will grow.
Thanks for listening.
About the author:
David Chorlton is Positive Psychology Practitioner and founder of Meaningful Paths, a platform that offers coaching and connection to meaningful community projects across the world.