I talk about creating change a lot, and I want to be clear about what I’m talking about. Making a change in our lives is not necessarily about happiness. I mean, it can be, but that is not the only reason to change. And even if the end goal is happiness, the process of change itself is not conducive to increased happiness; it’s too difficult and stressful for that.
So why change, then? We may wish to change to create more meaning for ourselves and our lives. We may wish to tell a different story with our lives than the one we find ourselves in. We may be thirsty for challenge or new experiences. We may be on a quest to become healthier or more empowered or more mindful. Or we may sense that we are being pushed down below our natural happiness setting and wish to change the circumstances causing this.
A lot of people are looking for something. We may be looking for happiness, or we may be looking for comfort or satisfaction or excitement. We may be looking for answers to questions that echo down the years of our lives. We may be looking for something larger than ourselves.
At the World Domination Summit, Donald Miller, a memoirist, spoke about the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who wrote the bestselling book Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor, and he worked professionally with Holocaust survivors. For him, life was all about creating meaning, even in the face of horrific circumstances.
According to Mr. Miller, Dr. Frankl believed three things mattered in creating a meaningful life:
1. Having a meaningful project that helps the world in some way (note this doesn’t have to be a paying project)
2. Having personal connections with other people, whether that be family, a significant other, friends, and/or a community
3. Having a redemptive perspective on suffering; aka finding the meaning in suffering, feeling one is achieving something through one’s suffering, choosing how to respond to suffering, etc.
This is some of the best advice on how to live life that I have ever heard. It’s so practical. It doesn’t wince away from the tough realities that sometimes face us. And it crystallizes my thoughts about my own life. It’s not happiness I’m seeking, not really. It’s meaning. It’s the ability to have a life that matters to me, and one in which I’ll be okay even in the darkest of times.
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” – Viktor Frankl
Maybe the happiness research is correct, and there isn’t very much we can do to affect our own personal happiness levels (although gratitude and mindfulness practice seem to help). But if we are most concerned with meaning, then that hardly matters. We don’t have to be the happiest people on the planet in order to create meaningful lives. We simply have to decide that meaning is important to us and make choices that reflect that belief.
A project that matters. Being brave, finding the silver lining, and experiencing gratitude even through bad experiences. Love.
Yes. These are the building blocks of the life I want to live.