“What is the meaning of life.” This is truly one of the greatest questions that has ever been asked. And for most people, outside the realm of philosophy, it has been a question resigned to idle thoughts or drunken debates among friends. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi book “Flow,” however he offers us a very simple and immediately obvious answer. The meaning of life is for your life to have meaning. Blindingly obvious when you think about it and simple too, the answer being so cleverly hidden in the question. But what does it mean for your life to have meaning?
For me this is the fun part because, “Meaning,” can mean many different things to many different people and as a coach I get to explore the subject of meaning and its myriad of manifestations with my clients. For some, getting up each morning and creating beautiful flower arrangements to bring colour and fragrance into a stranger’s life can bring meaning to their lives. For another person it can be the study and understanding of ancient Rome that brings meaning to their lives. For Napoleon it was conquest and the implementation of rule, for mother Theresa it was the alleviation of the suffering of the poor. For some it can be the exploration of the physical and spiritual self, while for others it might be the creation of children’s books. The trick is nailing down what it is in life that you can find meaning in. Knowing it, recognising it and embracing it.
Oddly enough you would thing that in our modern world, with the knowledge of the ages at our fingertips, the opportunity to swap and change our carers, our hobbies, or our political views and opinions at a whim, that we could easily enough stumble across meaning. But no… If anything, our modern world, with all its choices and options, just seems to cloud our vision, to hide meaning from us. In older times it was much easier. If you were born the son of a carpenter in small country village, then a carpenter you became. You could devote your whole life to your craft; hone it, master it and live it. The great irony of the modern world it that we have become lost in choice and as a result we have lost meaning and purpose in our lives, leading to feelings of discontent, depression, frustration and loneliness.
So, what makes something become meaning for you. How do you know if something is just a hobby, a passing interest or something that can create true meaning in your life? There are 3 things that separate a meaningful pursuit from just a hobby or interest… they are purpose, action and harmony.
Your purpose will be a goal of some kind, but it will be a very intensely felt goal. It can be a huge great big honker of a goal like Napoleon’s or mother Theresa’s or it can be small in comparison. The size of the goal is immaterial, it is its intensity that matters and nothing else. If we take our flower arranger as an example. She may get a wonderful sense of accomplishment every time she puts an arrangement together. It is an artistic endeavour combining, colour, size, shape, perfume, dramatic effect and perhaps the desire to tie its structure in some way to the personality of the person she is designing it for that gives her meaning. Each arrangement becomes a unique creation that as well as being an artistic statement also holds something of its creator in it. If you were a flower arranger and this is how it made you feel, then you would truly have a goal worthy of creating meaning in your life.
Perhaps some of you, having read the paragraph above are thinking, wow that sounds amazing, I want to be flower arranger. Well it takes more than fantasy, dreams and ideas to turn something from an idea into real meaning and that missing something is action. Goals without actions are just that, goals… or perhaps even less than that, they could be no more that hopes dreams or wishes. If a goal is not acted on it can never offer meaning and purpose to you; it must be actively pursued if it is to become reality. You do not have to be particularly good at it at first or even able to devote all your time to it but becoming good at it and spending a large part of your time at it must be the target. Your actions must be to work towards making “it,” the thing you do above all other things.
In many ways harmony is that transition from hobby to something that offers meaning to your life. In order for something to become meaning in your life, your life must come into harmony with it. When you are not arranging flowers, you are reading about them, learning about them, thinking about them and watching and learning from others. If you are thinking of buying a house you are not going to be considering an area where your access to good flowers is going to be hampered. You may find yourself booking holidays in places known for their wild and exotic plants. When visiting an art gallery, you may see the colours and form in the pictures as inspiration for your creations.
Of course, harmony does not mean you have nothing else in your life, that would be obsession not harmony. Harmony implies balance, so you may well have other interests. You might like to read detective novels or watch a particularly trashy soap opera. You may enjoy cooking or socialising with family or friends, but these will only ever be interests or hobbies and they may come or go but the thing that give you meaning will last. It will give you purpose, happiness, contentment and a wonderful sense of being.
As I mentioned earlier, finding meaning in the modern world can be hard and confusing with so many new and shiny things to investigate and explore and by all means do explore and open your mind but when you find something that can offer you true meaning in this life I urge you to grab on to it, not matter what it is. Once you have found it, pursue it, take action to make it real and a part of your life and find harmony with it too. Meaning offers true and lasting happiness in life and once you find it you will never look back.