Today people are actively seeking work that gives them a sense of purpose. The quest for meaning is replacing the quest for happiness both professionally and personally. In part, I believe this is a reaction to the emotional distancing felt through the experience of living a life on the screen. The cultural consequence is that people are feeling less of a connection and commitment toward each other and themselves.
How do we ﬁnd meaning?
Author Emily Esfahani-Smith explores how we can cultivate lives of meaning in her book: The Power of Meaning. Crafting a Life That Matters. Esfahani-Smith synthesizes ideas from psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, neuroscientists and various other literary, historical, and spiritual ﬁgures to further expand her research on what deepens life experiences. In distinguishing between a happy life and a meaningful life; one outcome from a study by researcher Baumeister yielded this thought- “the pursuit of happiness was linked to selﬁsh behavior—being a “taker” rather than a “giver”. Whereas, being a “giver,” or in her words, leading a more meaningful life, directly corresponds to “connecting and contributing beyond the self”.
How can we craft a life that gives back?
Esfahani-Smith proposes four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. These four themes crystallized through the collection of people’s stories she gathered as she posits, “meaning arises from our relationships to others, having a mission tied to contributing to society, making sense of our experiences and who we are through narrative, and connecting to something bigger than the self”. The telling of your story in therapy can begin the exploration of how to bring more meaning into your life. Perhaps happiness and meaning can both be felt through a mutual way of being- a give and take.