Making Meaning- Part 1

Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays! 

We’re talking about well-being. 

A quick recap of last week before we continue.

Last week, we began to pursue meaning, because modern societies seem to suffer from a lack of meaning or the feeling of purpose, coherence and worth (1). I argued that meaning doesn’t need to be grand, rather that meaning can be developed over time in small moments of awareness that align our values and actions.  

Cultivating meaning is a personal process, so we started by asking - what’s your why? This was in effort to discover how, when, and where you find purpose, coherence and worth (1). Then, I invited you to discover your strongest pillar(s) of meaning by taking Emily Esfahani Smith’s quiz. It’s a great way to begin developing awareness around where you find meaning.

Then, we took our pursuit of meaning a step further. I invited you to imagine having lived your best life possible and write your personal legacy (2). How did it feel to imagine how you want to be remembered? What impact do you hope to have made by the end of your life? Was it challenging and/or clarifying to write your legacy? Perhaps it was both.

This week, I want to spend some time exploring two of the four pillars of meaning in a bit more depth: Belonging and Purpose (1). As I mentioned last week, the beauty of the four pillars of meaning is that they are all accessible to anyone and everyone. Each pillar is a pathway to develop meaning in your world. So, let’s dive in.

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Belonging is the need to find our tribe and forge relationships in which we feel understood, recognized, and valued — to know that we matter to others. Sound familiar? We spent a good deal of time discussing mattering and perceived support a few weeks ago as a part of positive relationships (3, 4). We discovered that mattering matters, and that we all have a need to feel understood, recognized and cared for in our relationships (4). As humans, we all derive well-being from a sense of mattering from the ability to contribute value to those around us (3). Adding value helps us feel valuable and creates a virtuous cycle that builds our feelings of capability (3). 

The way we satisfy our need to belong changes throughout the course of our lives. As children, a care giver is essential. As we grow older, this needs is fulfilled through friends, family, romantic partners and intimate relationships.

With loneliness is on the rise (1), where do you find belonging?

First, let’s make a distinction. Brene Brown highlights the difference between belonging and fitting it, saying that in true belonging you are able to bring your whole self to the table, while when you are simply fitting in a part of yourself needs to be left behind out of fear of acceptance by the group. 

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Only belonging makes you feel safe, comfortable, welcome, and accepted. Positive relationships feed our feeling of belonging and are based on mutual care. They also contain frequent positive interaction with others and they impact our well-being (1). In this way, belonging fuels a sense of meaning.

If you identify with Belonging as a personal pathway to meaning, begin by asking yourself what relationships and/or communities foster this feeling of belonging? Once you have identified these relationships, consider how you might focus on others and spend some time cultivating meaningful moments in the relationships or communities. I invite you to reach out three times in the next week to feed your sense of belonging and make meaning in your interactions.

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The second pillar of meaning I want to explore today is purpose. Purpose is a far-reaching goal that motivates us, serves as the organizing principle of our lives, and drives us to make a contribution to the world (1). Or as they sing in the musical comedy Avenue Q, “Purpose, it’s that little flame, that lights as fire under your ass.” (If you are curious to hear the entire song, follow this link.) But seriously...

Purpose sounds grand, but it doesn’t have to be.

You could find purpose in simple things like being kind at work or being a good caregiver to a pet. Some people find purpose in their work. The reality of most professions is that we often don’t love completing every necessary task. Purpose can motivate mundane tasks that are stepping stones to a larger over-arching goal. It can look like passion, mission, values, or drive. People who have identified a sense of purpose report more meaning and satisfaction in their lives. They tend to be more resilient and motivated (1).

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Purpose doesn’t just arise. It requires self-reflection and self-knowledge as well as an understanding of values and goals. The picture above may help you think about one way to find purpose at work. Thought it is certainly possible to find meaning through purpose in contributions that are unpaid. What I hope this picture illustrates is that self-knowledge isn’t enough on its own.

Purpose requires a path for contribution in action. It’s about living in alignment with your values and goals, and it’s not just about what you want to do. It’s about who you want to be in that action. One important note is that purpose (like everything else in life) evolves. It is not necessarily static, so allow your purpose to evolve as you do.

Where you find purpose can be as individual as you are, but it will also aim to contribute to something larger than yourself. If purpose is you pillar of meaning, I encourage you to take stock of your values and look back to your written legacy from last week. Use this a a starting point to write one sentence in 10 words or less that defines your purpose. (At lease for now.) This can be a difficult yet worthwhile exercise to articulate your purpose. Dive in from your values, passions, and strengths. Look at how you want to contribute to the world around you, and just write it down. Remember, you are the author of your story of meaning, so you can change it as you grow.

Now regardless of your self-identified pillar of meaning, I invite you to take a moment to reread your legacy and consider what about your legacy brings you meaning? Consider how your legacy aligns with the pillars of belonging and purpose.

I hope you enjoy exploring meaning through the pillars of belonging and purpose this week, and I look forward to seeing you next week as we wrap up our time on meaning and consider  Storytelling and Transcendence (1).

As always, gratitude for the expertise of the following resources.

References

1. Smith E. The power of meaning. Random House; 2017.

2. Peterson C. A primer in positive psychology. Oxford University Press; 2006. 

3. Prilleltensky I. Promoting well-being: Time for a paradigm shift in health and human services. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. 2005; 33(66_suppl), 53-60.

4. Reis, H, Shaver, P. Intimacy as an interpersonal process. In S. Duck & D. F. Hay (Eds.), Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research, and interventions (pp. 367–389). New York: Wiley; 1988.