In Pursuit of Meaning

Happiness—what it is and how to get more of it—has long fascinated this blog. The Pursuit of Happiness observed that “happiness is not a random event” and explored the notion that personal growth is the source of happiness.

“Personal growth can mean learning something new, mastering something difficult, acquiring new insight, or being moved to joy in some inexpressible way by a work of art or piece of music. It can mean developing physical strength, health or endurance. Personal growth may mean achieving a higher level of emotional or spiritual connection with another person or with the natural world.”

Personal growth is about change, how you perceive change in your life, and how you respond to it. Personal growth comes from experiencing life’s changes as positive and affirming.

Optimal Living looked into the idea of “successful aging”—the idea that success in aging means achieving maximum satisfaction and happiness. Optimal aging—or “optimal living”—might be a better objective, because we should not think ourselves unsuccessful if we fail to achieve maximum happiness. There is an underlying hopefulness about seeking an optimal life. Life is not pass or fail. The discovery of what is optimal for ourselves is ongoing and evolving. Some of the benchmarks for what is optimal are quality of life, feelings of satisfaction and happiness, balance, capability, control and purpose.

The Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota has suggested that our goal should be making a more meaningful life for ourselves. Life is “meaningful” according to the Center when you feel “engaged, connected to purpose, and able to connect your gifts and passions with your highest values.” Meaningfulness is a “component of happiness,” and the pursuit of meaning leads to contentment. We can cultivate a sense of meaning through attention to four themes that wrap around a meaningful life: belonging, purpose, transcendence and storytelling.

We cultivate a sense of belonging by forming and deepening relationships and by joining with others in a community.

We find purpose by becoming aware of our individual values, our distinctive passions and our unique abilities—our gifts—and by applying those values, passions and gifts “to bring knowledge, joy, ease, or safety to others.”

Transcendence is our sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves. Transcendent experiences may be found in nature, in creativity or in spirituality. Later, Comma described the experience of transcendence in an earlier post, The Pursuit of Awesomeness and another post, An Expression of Spirituality, explored the intersection of spirituality and transcendence.

Storytelling in the pursuit of meaning refers to the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves. Storytelling is how we talk to ourselves about the significant experiences that have occurred in our lives. We can change how we tell our story. We have the power to edit our story with the passing of time, to view the facts of our experiences in different, more positive ways, to reshape ourselves by the retelling of our past. Just as our perception of change affects our experience of personal growth, the narrative voice that we hear telling our story affects how meaningful we perceive our lives to be.

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