Making Meaning - Part 2

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 continued to cultivate a feeling of purpose, coherence and worth by exploring two pillars of Meaning: Belonging and Purpose (1). Then, I invited you to begin developing awareness around when, where, and how you find meaning. in your own world as we asked - 

What’s your why?

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 (1). And mattering matters. When we add value, it helps us feel valuable and supports our feelings of capability (2). Belonging is not the same as “fitting in”. When we belong, we bring our whole selves to to the table and feel safe, comfortable, welcome, and accepted. Positive relationships are based on mutual care and feed our sense of belonging (1). If this was your primary pillar of meaning, I invited you to consider which relationships foster a feeling of belonging in your world, so you could then reach out and intentionally cultivate meaning. If this was you, how did it feel to recognize the sense of meaning you find in your close relationships and communities? Did it alter your interactions in any way?

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). Purpose can also motivate tasks that are stepping stones to a larger over-arching goal. It doesn’t just arise. Purpose requires self-reflection and self-knowledge as well as an understanding of personal values and goals. Yet, self-knowledge isn’t enough on its own. Purpose also requires action towards contribution. If purpose was your pillar of meaning, I invited you to define your purpose and write it down in 10 words or less. If this was you, what was it like to define your purpose (for now) and articulate your values, passions and strengths in a concise manner? What did you discover about how you would like to contribute to the world?

This week, I want to explore the remaining two pillars of Meaning: Storytelling and Transcendence (1).

We are all storytellers engaged in the composition of our lives. Storytelling is a way of creating coherence in our worlds. As human beings, we have a primal desire to understand the world around us and make sense of the of things we experience (1). We are meaning makers. By taking our disparate experiences and assembling them into a coherent narrative, we make sense of ourselves and the world we live in (1). 

Stories are particularly essential to create sense of identity (1). The way we see the world and who we are in that world is shaped by the stories we tell about ourselves and others. Some stories become our narrative identity or the story we tell to develop relationships and help others understand who we are (1). It’s not an exhaustive history. Rather a selective, crafted re-telling… a story of ourselves.

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Words create worlds.* When we listen, our stories reveal how we understand ourselves and the world around us. It’s all in how and where we focus our attention. Sound familiar? We discovered how attention determines what appears in our consciousness and is a powerful tool to improve well-being during our time on engagement (3).

Our stories shapes not only our present, but our future and our past. One of the ways we create meaning in moments of struggle is through storytelling (1). Research on post traumatic growth looks at how people spring forward from adversity with resilience, and it turns out that the story we tell ourselves in moments of adversity is key to resilient behavior (1). Stories can create meaning out of suffering. Importantly, this does not mean the suffering was necessarily worthwhile, rather it honors that the suffering happened. Coherent stories can make suffering worth something by incorporating our experience, our truth, into our narrative.

Some of our most important turning points are painful and difficult. Processing (not dwelling) on what might have been help us integrate our experience and cultivate meaning. If storytelling is your pathway to meaning, I invite you to think of a time of transition from your life story and engage in some counterfactual thinking. Take a few minutes to write about the what would be different in your life if you had not gone through this transition? Consider if this transition led you somewhere you wouldn’t have gone otherwise?

Remember, you the author of your own story, so it’s up to you to change narratives that don’t serve you. Give yourself room to change your narrative identity and cultivate meaning in new ways as you grow.

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During a transcendent experience, we feel we have risen above the everyday world and are connected to something vast and meaningful (1). It may seem counter intuitive that the feeling of insignificance which occurs in moments of transcendence creates meaning in our lives, but it does. Though we invest so much into the details of our lives, our time on this planet is actually quite small when compared to the billions of years that the universe has existed. A brush with mystery whether is is through natural beauty, a work of art, a religious ritual, or other means can transform us, create a feeling of awe, and provide a deep and powerful sense of meaning (1). 

Transcendent experiences may seem ineffable and difficult to describe, yet two important things happen during transcendent experiences. First, our sense of self disappears. Then, a deep sense of connection occurs leaving behind peace and well-being rather than the typical concerns of our daily lives (1). This feeling of awe challenges our mental models of the world and forces us to update our thinking in order to create coherence an explain our experience (1). 

If transcendence is your pathway to meaning, I invite you to consider what helps you quiet your mind and provides a sense of connection to something larger than yourself. What helps your ego disappear, even if only for a moment? Then, engage in that experience. Get outside, attend a service, meditate, or immerse yourself in music. Whatever it is for you. While it is difficult to create a transcendent experience and these feelings are transient, we can invite them into our world by looking up and opening ourselves to the larger truth of our lives.

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I hope you are beginning to see that there are sources of meaning all around us. No matter how you create meaning in your world or which pillar you tend to use a as pathway, remember that all four pillars of meaning are open and available to you. I invite you to take a couple of minutes to consider your values and what you have discovered about the way you cultivate meaning in your life. Then, ideate. Write down at least three new ways in which you can nurture meaning in your world over the next week.

I hope you enjoy exploring Storytelling, and Transcendence as you continue to cultivate meaning this week, and I look forward to seeing you next week as we wrap up our time on meaning and dive into our final element of PERMA - Accomplishment (4).

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

References

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

2. 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.

3. Csikszentmihalyi M. The anatomy of consciousness. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience (pp. 23-42). New York: Harper Perennial; 1990. 

4. Seligman M. Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press; 2002.

* credit to David Cooperrider