When the WHY is clear the HOW is easy.
What is meaning? And what is it made of? And why does it matter? This article is the first in a series on meaning, its anatomy (i.e., construct), and relevance for human thriving.
Since publishing my first book in 2013, I have pleasantly noticed a sudden surge of interest in meaning and purpose. While not claiming that it was due to my book, meaning and purpose have gone mainstream in academia and by a host of practitioners since then. Which is great! However, as I and many others have experienced, with the wave of attention came confusion triggered by a Bable of definitions and terms.
Since meaningful purpose psychology (MP) (i.e., logoteleology) came to life, we at The Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose have shared our definitions and their reasoning. Fortunately, clients and colleagues find the concepts simple to understand and easy to practice in daily life. Yet, let me repeat what I wrote in the Preface of my first book, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology:
I must also state that my approach … is not to disprove and challenge others’ theories as wrong; rather, my goal and resolve is to offer a framework that is valuable, relevant, and meaningful.
What is Meaning?
I learned from Viktor Frankl's definition of meaning: "Meaning is what is meant, be it by a person who asks me a question, or by a situation which, too, implies a question and calls for an answer" (Emphasis, mine).
Meaning is what is meant, be it by a person who asks me a question, or by a situation which, too, implies a question and calls for an answer.
~ Viktor Frankl ~
Hence, in MP science, meaning is an aim (e.g., intention or goal) backed by causes (e.g., reasons, motives, and justifications). Anything we mean or aim to do is always justified by a motive. Nothing can happen without a cause prompting it.
Meaning is an aim (e.g., intention or goal) backed by causes (e.g., reasons, motives, and justifications).
As I will share over this series, understanding that meanings are initiated by causes -- a motive -- is fundamental to explain, predict, and improve behavior. That explains how the popular and widely accepted link between meaning and the concept “why” is both applied on clinical and non-clinical settings. And while we have our proprietary approach, MP is no exception.
For more information on the definition of meaning, you can find a more detailed explanation in our most recent book, Meaningful Purpose: A Primer in Logoteleology (2022) authored by Daniel Persuitte and myself.
Why Causes Matter
Can anything happen without a cause?
Understanding that meaning is an aim backed by reasons, motives, and justifications is liberating. The definition tells us we can control events or how we respond to what life requires of us as situations emerge. It reminds us to be mindful and responsible for our thoughts – the reasons, motives, and justifications (i.e., cause) that generate an intention or a goal. Hence, consider a better option if your current why (i.e., cause) does not serve you well. The power of having that option at your disposal sets you free!
Think of a challenging situation in your life that could improve by simply changing the why. What are the whys of your current and improved meanings?
Meaning (Logo) is not the Same as Purpose (Telos)
In MP science, the role of purpose is to fulfill meanings. Meaning is cognitive and sensory – head stuff. Meaning sets the behavioral agenda.
Meaning sets the behavioral agenda.
We cannot perceive a meaning (i.e., mind-reading) until you experience it through action. Said differently, “meaning aim, purpose fulfills.” Purpose is behavior in action or “where the rubber hits the behavioral road.” Meaning is mental, while purpose requires applying skills (more about the MP construct of purpose in a future article).
A Short Case Study: Meaning and Purpose in Action
Imagine you are sitting comfortably on your sofa chair reading an exciting book. Suddenly, your attention is interrupted because you feel thirsty. A thirst that was caused and revealed or identified by your biological body as “dehydration.” You tell yourself, “I am thirsty.” Such is a meaning experience. There is a why to your feeling (feelings mean something) – a bodily request (cause) to meet a need (aim).
You are aware of the physical request. You have not acted on it. It remains as a meaning. You intend to get up to drink water but haven’t. Actually, you could procrastinate as long as you can resist the urge. There is no action-purpose here yet. It remains as an awareness with an intention (meaning) to get rid of your thirst. It is all happening in your head. You haven’t taken any action – UNTIL – your intention becomes a decisive goal that starts to burn calories, moves your body out of the sofa chair, and on your way to the kitchen for that glass of water – purposeful behavior or action. (We call that meaning command that triggers purposeful behavior “telosponse.” And yup! We are MP nerds.)
So what? How is the content of this article relevant to our daily lives?
Consider the following:
What do I mean to do with my life?
How does behavior reveal meanings – including people’s meaning of life?
How does meaning explain my state of happiness?
How does meaning explain what happens at work and important relationships?
There is a time-space between meaning and purpose.
How could you benefit through a thorough and mindful understanding of the content of your meanings before you took action (i.e., Purposeful behavior)?
Why do you sometimes procrastinate?
Now that we have MP’s definition of meaning, I will next write an article about what meanings are made of – or the nuts and bolts of meaning (In nerd psychological language, we call it “construct.”). Stay tuned!
Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose: Discovering Life's Answers. ™
The Paths We Choose – A Workshop
To learn more about meaning and the meaningful path, we encourage you to attend our next "The Paths We Choose Workshop" planned for Sunday, December 10th, 2023, in Westfield, MA. For more information on this and future sessions, click The Paths We Choose: A Workshop | authorluismarrero. This session was planned for individuals who have difficulty taking time off from work during the regular workweek.
21st Century Workplace Forum: Cultivating Meaningful and Prosperous Workplaces
A Second-Wave Organization Development Perspective
If you wish to be part of a cohort to discuss and develop solutions for healthy workplaces, please select the "Contact" box below to let us know you wish to participate in this forum. Or you can write me directly: Luis@Bostonimp.com.
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