Finding Meaning

It’s interesting to observe our culture from a macro point of view. Messages we receive from our market driven society revolve around the notion that we are happier people when we possess a beautiful home, a cool car, and stylish clothes that make us feel good. Our possessions tend to accumulate, as our closets, cabinets and garages fill with our manifestations of a happier existence.

The other prominent notion is that success brings happiness. We strive to climb the corporate ladder, to earn more money.  We tend to look at wealth and happiness as being synonymous, and so we direct a great deal of our emotional capital toward wealth accumulation. But a recent TED Talk by Emily Esfahani Smith challenged the notion that our traditional pursuits of happiness may not lead to a happier existence at all; in fact, it may create an opposite effect.

By almost any measure, our standard of living is higher than most places on earth, yet our material success often leaves us feeling more alone and unsatisfied, in some cases even clinically depressed. Smith declares that “this despair is not a lack of happiness. It’s a lack of something else, it’s a lack of having meaning in life.” 

The term “happy” is defined as “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” Yet a state of happiness is often fleeting, it comes and goes depending on our circumstances moment to moment. Having meaning in our lives, however, is sustainable because it involves us being in service to something greater than ourselves; a cause, or a group united by a common purpose, a passion, or a belief.

Smith cites four “pillars” that contribute to a more meaningful life, being “belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling.” You don’t have to practice all four of these pillars to experience a more meaningful life, just practicing one of them will put you on the path to a more enriched life experience. 

My wife and I volunteer for the Ashland Food Project, a very simple program where every other month volunteers collect green bags full of non-perishable food items from participating neighbors. We take our green bags to the Ashland Food Bank, which is manned with more volunteers. It’s so simple, it’s brilliant. Any person in need, can receive food from the Food Bank. We belong to a dedicated group of volunteers with the purpose of helping to feed people.

Many people belong to social organizations with an altruistic cause. Participating in a cause for the greater good of your community will add meaning to your life.

We all have a role to play in how we contribute and interact with each other. We all have a choice to be in service to our community, to our surroundings, or to a cause. When we feel connected, when we perceive our efforts are valued, we can live a more meaningful life.

At Possibilities, we explore our personal narrative through our Level 1 Seminars. We reevaluate our choices from a safe and objective point of view. We’ll explore our perspective and our motives as we learn to sharpen our emotional intelligence skills. Come join us and begin a worthwhile journey toward a more meaningful life.