What is meaning? It can be explained
in various ways:
Meaning is a quality which signifies that an object is
important in ways which cannot be fully explained in terms of
functionality. For example, a hammer is simply a functional
object which has no meaning; however, this hammer could
have meaning if, for example, it was given to us by a beloved
relative, or it is an antique, or it was used on our first job
Meaning is a quality which evokes particular feelings: awe,
reverence, respect, devotion, care, concern, cherishing, etc. We
discern meaning through our feelings and intuition.
Meaning is a quality which we ascribe to something which we
"value"; i.e., if something is meaningful to us, we value it.
The word's synonyms include "significance" and "importance."
Personal meaning and "the meaning of
life." Meaning exists on both the personal and impersonal level.
Personal meaning. For example, we might discover meaning in a
marriage or relationship, or parenthood, or giving assistance and
love to individuals, or contributing to society in general
(through a job or volunteer work), or our spiritual exploration of
life. We have meaning when we can answer the questions, "Who am
I?" and "Why am I here?"
The meaning of life. In addition to our personal sense of
meaning, there might be a universal meaning for our
existence -- a meaning which underlies all experience for all of
us. Philosophers have speculated that the meaning of life is that
it presents opportunities to learn to love, or to explore
spiritual truth, or to discover our divine nature. The belief in a
universal meaning can be constructive as long we do not deny our
own personal meanings; for example, if we accept the religious
idea that the meaning of life is found in service to mankind, we
are betraying ourselves if we abandon our family (in which we find
meaning) in an effort to find meaning in the abstract religious
idea of service.
The benefits from
Meaning gives guidance. In many decisions, our choice is (1) a
meaningful activity or (2) a less-meaningful activity. If we know
what is important to us, this decision-making process is easier.
Meaning grants context and continuity. Meaning is a central
theme, from which our life makes sense. Our individual activities
and goals are not random occurrences; instead, they are extensions
from this theme.
Meaning grants strength. If our lives have meaning, we can
experience peace and courage even when we are struggling and
Meaning grants satisfaction. When we are performing a
meaningful activity, the activity itself is emotionally rewarding,
even if the results are not perfect or even successful; "we fought
the good fight."
Self-talk. For example: "Life has meaning." "I enjoy
finding the personal meaning in things." "I take care of the
things that are meaningful to me."
Directed imagination. For example, we can visualize
ourselves tenderly caring for something which has meaning to
Energy toning. When we encounter things which are
meaningful to us, we can cultivate energy tones such as love,
affection, fondness, awe, cherishing, etc.
The "as-if" principle. When we discern the meaningful
things in our life, we can act out the role of a person who
cares for those things -- treating them with respect, and
growing them into a substantial part of our life.
Intuition. Meaning becomes apparent to us through our
feelings, which is one means by which our intuition expresses
itself. We can also use intuition itself to direct us toward the
activities which are meaningful; then, intuition will tell us how
to interact with these meaningful activities such that we fulfill
We can make a list of the things which are meaningful to us.
What do we care about? What is most satisfying in our life? What
causes the most happiness? What is in our daydreams and fantasies?
What are our aspirations? What were our goals when we were
We can discriminate between our own meaning and the meaning
which is presented by external forces. Many people try to tell us
what should be important to us; those people include
parents, religious leaders, politicians, the media, celebrities,
advertisers, etc. But meaning is a very intimate matter which is
based upon our own feelings and intuition.
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