This month I was invited to participate as a guest writer in the “Making More Meaning” blog by Stephanie. I love her idea to invite several reflections from fellow bloggers on how we find meaning and I am honored to write on this topic.
The minimalists have led the way in our understanding that collecting more possessions is not what gives our lives meaning. I got a reference a few weeks ago to the book “Stuffocation: Living More with Less” from Lisa at the Simple Life Experiment podcast. James Wallman makes a compelling case for an experiential approach over materialism in the way we live our lives, and traces the history of this change in perspective.
Wallman helped me see how collecting things to show one’s status may have arisen from and evolutionary fitness marker display, which helps me have more empathy with this human impulse. At the same time, we have an ecological imperative to evolve away from this way of living, given worldwide population growth. Left unchecked, the manufacture, packaging and waste generated in making more “stuff” could lead to massive problems in the earth’s ecosystems.
I consider how I personally find meaning daily life. During my 20’s and early 30’s, my career was sometimes more about earning income to pay my bills, while I found true meaning in my volunteer activities. I am fortunate today to work for a company that has a meaningful mission to me: “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.” When focus on the patients we serve, and stay committed to the mission, I find a great deal of meaning in the clinical research that my team does every day in Latin America.
On the other hand, when a focus on short-term profit clouds leadership judgment on what is best for the long-term health of our department, it is much more difficult to be propelled by the mission. I believe people can profit from their work and add value to the world simultaneously. There is nothing wrong with making a fair profit. We can re-invest profit into further innovations. Profit and start-up capital are often required to develop new solutions for patients in a sustainable way.
Finding meaning and purpose is about making a contribution that aligns with our values and allows us to use our strengths and talents often. I like Brene Brown’s definition of spirituality (from her work in Rising Strong) to explain how meaning, purpose and spirituality intersect for me. She sees spirituality as something not reliant on religion, theology or dogma, but rather a belief in our interconnected-ness and in a loving force that is greater than ourselves. It is in this way we complete our connection to spirit, living as interconnected beings. We fully acknowledge everything we do has effects on other people, on animals, and on other life on our planet.
We must do some inner work on ourselves, to be sure that our intentions are not coming from a place of needing to “prove our worthiness” to anyone. We are inherently worthy of love and belonging, just by being born. But the gratitude that flows from this realization gives us generosity of spirit that feeds our energy and our commitment.
We are also wired to be in relationships with people, animals and other living organisms. Research shows that we benefit from being in nature, though there is some controversy on whether it is nature itself, or being in community with others that really boosts our well-being. Healthy relationships have been shown to decrease your chances of dying prematurely by 50%. Support offered by caring friends can buffer the effects of stress. In older adults, loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health.
Note that it is about quality and not quantity of your relationships. Even if you have 500+ facebook friends, this does not substitute for 2-3 close friends (or family) in your life that you know you can truly count on when you need support. As an introvert, I know that it takes a lot of energy to maintain many relationships, and so I cultivate them selectively, and in a deeper way.
Is it possible that the “meaning” of friendship gets diluted if you have too many friends?
I will leave you to ponder that one, while I get back to some work I must complete this week. I would love your thoughts or comments.