One of the traits I mentioned last week that is connected with resilience is perspective, and part of perspective is the ability to find or create meaning. In a conversation about resilience, that meaning is most often crafted around circumstances of difficulty, but really humans are looking everywhere for meaning all the time.
James Altucher gives a great example of this in his latest Q&A post, in which someone asks him whether their sadness will ever go away. James’s answer, especially the fourth point of it, is a textbook example of emotional resilience by creating meaning: “When I feel sad… the universe will grieve but then rejoice because it’s learning so much. Then I can rejoice because every pain, every sadness, every moment, is ME, the universe manifest, learning something new.” He believes that every moment of his life is a learning experience for the universe, and therefore his life is infused with meaning. And this helps him deal with feelings of sadness.
A few days after I read this Q&A, I read Karawynn Long’s latest post, “How American culture is causing widespread misery.” She talks about the correlation between a shift in American culture and increasing rates of depression, and offers some suggestions as to what we individually can do about this. It’s really fascinating, especially this part: “As our culture shifted to exalt the benefits of personal choice and individual success, Seligman explains, we were also losing confidence in the larger constructs of society. Previously, he says, Americans lived in “a context of meaning and hope.” When we encountered failure, we could take reassurance from something larger than ourselves: “a belief in the nation, in God, in one’s family, or in a purpose that transcends our lives.” But as Carter noted, in the middle of the twentieth century that reassurance began to disintegrate.”
So with an increasing distrust in government, along with declines in active religious faith and more closely knit (and often geographically close) families, Americans suffered from more depression. In other words, with loss of meaning came decreased emotional resilience.
Of course, we can, and do, find meaning elsewhere, whether or not we believe in God or our families or the government. Personally, I have found a great deal of meaning in teaching, particularly children and teens, and while I’m not teaching at present, I suspect I’ll do it again at some point in the future. I find meaning in my writing, both my fiction (fiction is inherently about creating meaning) and on this blog. I find meaning through the communities I am part of, in the relationships I have formed, and in self transformation. I find meaning through learning more about the world and universe around me, and through shifting perspectives to remember how small I really am, both in scales of size and time.
What we are fighting against is a sense of futility, the thought that nothing we do matters or makes a difference, the urge to coast or settle or fall into a rut. Instead we believe in the butterfly effect. We believe our choices matter, whether that be the choice to recycle that piece of paper or to smile at the clerk at the grocery store or to give a significant amount of money to a charity or Kickstarter. We create meaning by being mindful about the cause and effect of what we do every day.
How do you create meaning in your life?