Finding meaning in life
I laugh at myself most days, I need to otherwise I take myself too seriously. I find myself looking for meaning in almost everything. I have been on summer break staying in a holiday house on the beach. Each day my husband and I (and the new puppy Jackford) walk the beach, morning and night. Every time the beach is just a bit different.
We ask ourselves regularly “why?” and in fact, according to my mother, my most regular question growing up was “but why”? Often I am searching for meaning when there is none. The shells are on the beach one day and gone the next. Was there a change in ‘current’ or wind I ask? Perhaps their presence just ‘is’ and I really don’t need to know the answer.
I just like to know how things work and sometimes, I get to the bigger questions such as the meaning of life. Or perhaps just the meaning of my own life — this can keep me caught up for hours.
It’s now three years since I wrote Live What You Love — exploring passion, persistence, positivity and purpose. The question people sometimes ask me is “what if I cannot find my purpose?” I have responded saying “stay curious, ask questions, take note of when you are in flow and enjoying how you contribute to others…”.
I wrote a post about pausing in our pursuit of happiness in order to be happy, so when I came across Emily Esfahani Smith on TED.com in her talk ‘There’s more to life than being happy’… I wondered if we were aligned.
Emily Esfahani Smith says that it is not happiness that we should be pursuing, but ‘meaning’. I concur that happiness is but one of the many human emotions and not a constant state of being. It is not the endpoint. Throughout life, we toil and struggle and sometimes feel a great sense of accomplishment… pride in what we do, but this is different from happiness.
Emily outlined that those with a sense of ‘meaning’ know why they are here and what they are about, that is:
- They feel like they belong, they feel connected and a part of something bigger than themselves.
- They are purposeful — they know that what they do is for others, purpose is about contribution.
- She uses the words ‘transcendence’… perhaps spirituality, however, I interpreted this to be ‘beliefs’. What is it that I believe and who do I believe in?
- The story we tell ourselves about our selves. And perhaps if we shift this internal dialogue we can have a different outlook and sense of meaning. (I catch myself all too often saying I can’t, I shouldn’t, I won’t — when in fact, as I talked about in Live What You Love, using positive language even with self-dialogue is materially important for your own wellbeing).
Emily Esfahani Smith says that having ‘meaning’ is bigger than living with purpose. It is about finding a really worthwhile contribution to make — whether this is in your work, in your community or in other ways.
I think many of us rush from one thing to the next, or do what we think we should be doing… busy watching other people’s lives on social media. I encourage you to take a little time to explore the above notion of ‘meaning’ as it applies to you. It may well provide you with a mantra to really ensure that 2018 is a ‘Happy’ new year after all!
How to find meaning in your life?
I have created a simple exercise to help you kick-start your thinking about meaning and how to find more of it in your own life — you can download the exercise here.
Also published on Medium.