In my previous blog, I explained the meaning of Meaning and why it’s important. Now let’s look at how you can find it.
Where do I find Meaning? How do I do I find Meaning?
Where do you begin to get your head around this elusive concept? I suggest a focus on three areas. If you spend quality time reflecting and deciding here, I believe you’ll have created a framework to find your Meaning. They can be considered as building blocks. They are:
What are your values? What makes them important?
What beliefs guide your actions? If you’re like most people you haven’t thought of them. Yet they govern everything you do. You live your values every day. A value is what you hold most dear. It’s a fundamental belief, a guiding principle that will enable you to live the life you want.
Some examples are:
- Freedom/ independence
- Inspiration / discovery
- Belonging / community / inclusion
- Understanding / acceptance
- Peace / balance / harmony
- Fun / play / humor
- Safety / security
- Space / solitude
- Love / affection
- Intimacy / connection / closeness
- Service / kindness
- Compassion / empathy
- Learning / knowledge
- Respect / appreciation
Our actions reflect our values, whether you realize it or not. You can say you care about something, but if you take no action on it, you really don’t care that much. You can say you care about climate change, but if you expend no energy on it, how much do you really care?
And if our actions define who we are, then our values are extensions of ourselves.
Sometimes we lie to ourselves about what we value. We may think we value something, but our actions say otherwise. And we don’t want to admit that. It’s this discrepancy between what we want to value and the reality that causes us to avoid facing who we really are. One might call that delusion.
We live our values. What values are you living?
What are ethics? What makes them important?
How do you decide the actions you will take toward others? Ethics are your beliefs and standards regarding right and wrong behavior. I think the words right and wrong are too absolute and judgmental, so I prefer to use either helpful and unhelpful or healthy and unhealthy. Often, decisions aren’t so clear cut.
Ethics has a very long history. The philosophy of Stoicism was created in Greece, in the early 3rd century BC and it lasted for about 600 years. It was a system of personal ethics based on logic and reason. A key concept was virtue. A virtue is a positive trait that makes one a good human being.
The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in The Meditations, circa 180 AD: “Put an end once and for all to this discussion of what a good man should be and be one.”
We use our personal ethics every day to decide our actions. Some are routine such as, “Will I let this driver switch lanes in front of me?” Or, “Will I pick up that piece of trash in my neighbor’s yard?”
Others are more important such as, “Will I give credit to someone else for the work they did?” Or, “Will I admit to making a mistake?”
Some ethical decisions are life changing. If I’m seriously injured, do I want to be kept alive at all costs? Some of us have had to make that decision for loved ones and we know how excruciating that is.
The well-known Hippocratic Oath has been taken by doctors since between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC. I think we would all agree to follow it. It states, “First, do no harm.”
What are your personal ethics? What are the things you will and will not do? What principles of behavior do you live by?
Now comes legacy.
What does legacy mean? What makes it important?
One use of the word “legacy” is as a popular noun that’s used to name things to add a positive perception. Our default impression is that it describes something good. Legacy Stadium or Legacy Square are so named to project strength and longevity.
Yet, we know a legacy can be negative as well. The legacies of authoritarian governments and dictators are painful reminders of a great deal of suffering.
A dictionary definition of legacy is something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor.
Your legacy is not just about after your death. You are creating your legacy by the way you live each day. In fact, you are creating your legacy right now. Traces of your presence are left behind by every action you take. You’ve already left a legacy. What is it?
Whether you know it or like it or not, you are transmitting yourself every day to people you engage with. Some pertinent questions to ask yourself are:
- How I want to be remembered?
- What will I leave behind?
- What will I regret when I’m dying?
Here’s an exercise for you. Write your own obituary. Not the epitaph on your tombstone. The write up you’d like to see in the newspaper. I guarantee that will make you think hard about what’s Meaningful for you.
A parting thought….
The paradoxical secret to finding Meaning may be to not look for it.
The most enriching forms of Meaning may appear not when we pursue them directly, but when we instead seek beauty, love, justice or, as Viktor Frankl writes, “a cause greater than oneself.”
The secret to a Meaningful life may be to set our intention every day to do the right thing, to love fully, to seek new experiences and to do important work, not because we’re trying to find Meaning in life, but because these actions are good in themselves.
The way to find Meaning may be to allow Meaning to find us.