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Finding (and Retaining) Meaning in Life

By   Shlomo Maital

 

The October issue of Monitor on Psychology (APA) has a fine article by Tori Deangelis,  “In search of meaning”.   In it she makes several key points:

  • Almost every problem that’s brought into therapy …is implicitly about the meaning of life. This is from Dr. Clara Hill, a psychology professor and author of Meaning in Life (2018).
  • Psychologists George and Park agree that “people believe their lives are meaningful when three aspects are in place: they feel their lives make sense and have continuity, they are directed and motivated by meaningful goals, and they believe their existence matters to others.

 

         Sense, continuity, goals, value for others…   these components are similar to those that guide startup entrepreneurs.   ‘Make meaning, not money’, is the principle taught by startup expert Guy Kawasaki. Turns out – this is also the recipe for a meaningful life.   Make sense – there is a reason I am alive and I need to find it, matching my passions and skills.   Continuity – I am part of work that began before me and will continue after me. Goals – meaningful ambitious aspirations. Value for others – my life has meaning, and creates value, for others.

               A number of approaches to “meaning therapy” have proven effective. Logotherapy was developed by Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived Nazi death camps and later made his survival technique into a therapeutic method, based on 3 things: kindness or creative work, truth and beauty, and facing life’s difficulties with courage.

         Another approach is story-telling. Shape your life as a story – tell your own story, looking back – and build your own story, looking forward in time. A research finding shows: Those who frame their lives as a journey find more meaning than those who see their lives in a linear, steps-to-a-goal fashion.

     Other research simplifies meaning into two key parts:   close personal connections and purposeful work. Problem is, many challenging jobs, as in high-tech, take a heavy toll on family life and family connections.   In one of my Coursera courses on entrepreneurship, given together with a former very senior high-tech executive, the first of 10 key lessons taught to students is: Take care of your family.   Purposeful work can end up losing meaning if you end up without those around you whom you love and who love you.

   The article ends on a positive note, quoting a wise psychologist: While meaning is a profound human experience, it is in the end based on ordinary, attainable things.

     But, I would add, to find meaning – you have to be aware that it is important and must be sought.

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Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
June 2019
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