I read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning twice, but I didn’t get what “meaning” is until I found what I really care about.
What does it mean when you say something is “meaningful”?
I couldn’t get my head around the concept of an activity having “meaning”. And, why should it matter whether or not what I am doing has “meaning”? What difference can it possibly make, I wondered? What’s all the fuss about?
The answer is that when what you’re doing has “meaning” you engage your whole being, you gather your resources, and your emotions energize you. It makes a huge difference.
What is “meaning”?
For me “meaning” is a deeply personal feeling that something is of great importance to my existence. It is about who I am.
“Meaning” is no ordinary feeling, but somehow a higher level of feeling. It’s on the same level of importance and life enhancement as “love”. When you experience the feeling of “meaning” you feel engaged and elevated. It’s as if something inside of you feels complete.
When you experience “meaning” your life moves up to a higher plane.
How do you create “meaning”?
You have to discover and do what life intended you for.
This is where things get complicated. How can you find out what life intended you for? The answer is that you have to dig within. You have to get to know yourself. And that’s not easy because for loads of reasons you have created multiple masks that you wear in different situations with different people. It’s hard to know which of your multiple personalities is the real you.
But you will be drifting restlessly until you find your real self.
How to find your true self
I have found no absolute answer, but by looking in these places the real you will start to reveal itself.
- Notice what arouses your passions. Dig deeper, what is going on that makes you feel so strongly? Is there a fundamental belief that is stirring you?
- Notice the causes that arouse your passions. What is it about the cause that is making you feel so strongly?
- Notice what you are curious about. Your natural curiosity tells you a lot about what really interests you.
- Notice the heroes in books, songs, and movies who appeal to you. What is it about what they do and the way they do it that appeals to you?
- Notice when you feel especially happy. I don’t just mean mildly relaxed, I mean when you feel delirious. What is happening to make you that happy? What are you doing? Where are you? Who are you with?
I suggest that you make notes. Keep a special place where you write down everything that you feel strongly about. Your notes will show you what really rings your chimes.
By noticing yourself in these ways you will start to build a picture of the real you.
Case study, “How Jessica found meaning”
Jessica is a somewhat plain, overweight, introverted young woman who is in love with the idea that she can look beautiful.
Since her early teens, Jessica has been an avid reader of articles about “beauty” and how to enhance her appearance. She would often go to the big city to join the crowds at movie premiers. She always arrived early to ensure a front-row position from which to observe the stars up close. She spent all of her spare cash on beauty products, skin toners, blushers, eyeliners, and lipsticks.
Jessica saved and scraped to send herself on a beauty therapist course. By the end of the first day she had found something even better than making herself look beautiful — she had found the joy of making other women look beautiful. She knew she had found her true self.
Today Jessica runs her own beauty parlor with sunbeds, beauty counseling, and makeup advice. She is one of the happiest, most fulfilled-looking young women you could ever meet. She has found meaning in helping others to look their best.
The two elements of “meaning”
Those of us who find “meaning” in our lives are indeed fortunate but we need to use what gives our life meaning with care and generosity.
Doing something that has meaning for us is of course very rewarding. But it is only meaningful when it has benefits for others. I don’t believe that anything can be truly meaningful when it is only done for entirely selfish reasons.
If your main interest in life is solely to boost your own ego you will eventually drive other people away. It is only when you share your knowledge, your skills, and your abilities with others and you see them enjoying the benefits of your sharing that you can experience the full joy of having found meaning.
Is finding “meaning” in my life worth the time and effort?
I can only tell you that in my experience my life did not feel complete until I started to do what was meaningful for me.
Until the time that I started to pilot others to help them understand themselves and get more out of their lives, I always had a feeling that something was missing. All my achievements had a hollowness about them. It was great that I won a new sales contract, or I won a golf competition or I got a new job or bought a new car, but the luster soon wore off and I was left asking, “what’s next?”
I now believe that what I do has benefits others. That belief feeds my spirit and gives me a lasting feeling that what I do is worthwhile — it has “meaning”.