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What is Meaningful? And why knowing matters?

“…subjective well-being research is now showing that in all cultures, and even from infancy, people are drawn to pro-social behavior, and that they are happier when they act pro-socially.” ~ United Nations Happiness Report 2017
Luis A. Marrero

Luis A. Marrero, M.A., RODP, LLP


In my previous blog I wrote: “After many years of research, including reading what seemed like an endless list of psychology books and journals by some very smart researchers (by the way, I am still reading and researching…..), I concluded that successful living is doing meaningful things. So it begs the question: What is meaningful? In short, the meaningful builds, improves and edifies. On the other hand, meaning-less behaviors and actions harm, deflate, demean, and subtract. So a life that builds, improves and edifies people and things is meaningful and leads to successful living. Meaningful Purpose Psychology encourages people to live successfully by doing meaningful things and to reject the meaningless.”

I will get more specific here answering how to do meaningful things in order to build, improve, and edify people, and explain why it matters. Based on some sound psychological research, I discovered that humans long for the meaningful. People can satisfy such longing through what I call “The Five Meaningful Life Strivings”. According to Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MPP), these are worthwhile goals and existential states that life calls us to pursue and achieve individually and collectively. These existential states are:

  1. To love and be loved by others. (pro-social behavior)

  2. To be safe and have peace of mind (Psychological and physical security)

  3. To experience a state of happiness (Contentment and Gratitude)

  4. To be challenged with interesting experiences (Mindful Flow)

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  1. To grow and prosper (Growth-mindset)

In accordance with MPP findings, acting in ways that are congruent with the Five Meaningful Strivings leads to harmony or the meaningful. On the other hand, going against the Five Meaningful Strivings leads to misery or the meaningless. It is generally easy to see the outcomes of each, and it is generally easy to make a choice: either to do the meaningful or do the meaningless. There are consequences for each.

“There are many ways to be happy (to love someone or to dominate), many ways to actualize creativity (to create symphonies or atom bombs), and many ways of self-realization (to realize our artistic or our practical self, our cruel streak or our compassion). Thus to ‘What am I able to do?’ must be added the second question, ‘What am I called to do?’ Here our freedom of choice must be tempered by responsibleness, and this is made more difficult by the fact that we rarely get a second chance.” ~ Joseph B. Fabry, The Pursuit of Meaning: Viktor Frankl, Logotherapy, and Life

I also concluded that there is a natural and conditional path for the meaningful. The Five Meaningful Strivings must be implemented in the order stated, starting with love, followed by peace, etc. This means that to reach a meaningful state people should start by caring for others as a precondition to peace.

“To feel secure, people need to feel that others care for them and will come to their aid when needed.” ~ United Nations World Happiness Report 2017 ~

And in order to be on an authentic state of happiness there is the precondition of peace (Have you ever tried to be funny or in the mood to laugh when in strife [lack of peace]?) To be fully engaged on interesting tasks it helps to be in a positive and ready mental state. Hence, happiness and joy are conditions to being intrinsically, fully and authentically present on a task. And the good news is that doing something meaningful and being productive adds to our state of happiness. Finally, we can experience growth and prosperity – the sense of forward movement and progress – be it mental, spiritual, physical or financial – when we are engaged in meaningful tasks. Yes, we can make money without liking the task, but only the money part would give the appearance of being meaningful, not the task itself. MPP defines “meaningful” as practicing the Five Meaningful Strivings, and in the order presented.

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.” ~ Viktor Frankl ~

According to MMP, when we make the Five Meaningful Strivings a guiding compass for our life, it leads to a fulfilling and self-actualizing existence.

There is also a path for the meaningless. Again, based on research, one approach to following the meaningless path is through the fifth striving – Prosperity. The goal of this approach is to seek financial gain in order to afford interesting experiences (some which can be harmful, illegal and unethical options); and intended to buy happiness, peace of mind, and love. Those starting their path striving for money are in for a rude awakening.

“In fact, science documents that positive emotions can set off upward spirals in your life, self-sustaining trajectories of growth that lift you up to become a better version of yourself.” ~ Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D, Love 2.0

So why is knowing what is meaningful and meaningless relevant? Simply, and as previously stated, because there are predictable outcomes for each path – the meaningful path leads to a successful existence; and the meaningless to a miserable state of life.

Imagine

 yourself in front of two labeled doors. The door to your left has a sign that reads “Meaningless”, the door to your right reads “Meaningful”. Which will you follow?

For more information I encourage you to read my books, “The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology” (2013) and “Meaningful Purpose: A Primer in Logoteleology” (2022). I am also open to comments, questions, coaching and consulting.

© 2013. Luis A. Marrero. Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose. 11 Belmont Street, Westfield, MA 01085.

References:

Blumberg, Herbert H., A. Paul Hare and Ann Costin. (2006) Peace Psychology: A Comprehensive Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Fabry, Joseph B. (2013) The Pursuit of Meaning: Viktor Frankl, Logotherapy, and Life. Charlottesville, VA: Purpose Research, LLC

Frankl, Viktor E. (2006) Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press

Fredrickson, Barbara L. (2013) Love2.0: Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connections. New York: Plume

MacNair, Rachel M., Editor. (2006) Working for Peace: A Handbook of Practical Psychology and Other Tools. Atascadero, California: Impact Publishers

Marrero, Luis A. (2013) The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. Bloomington: IUniverse

Marrero, Luis A. (August 9, 2016) Meaning, Meaningful, and Important: The Powerful Three. In https://authorluismarrero.blog/2016/08/09/meaning-meaningful-and-important-the-powerful-three/

Rosenberg, Marshall B. (2003) Nonviolent Communication. Encinitas, California: Puddle Dancer Press

Seligman, Martin E. P. (2011) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press

Sternberg, Robert J. and Karin Weis. Eds. (2006)  The New Psychology of Love. New Haven and London: Yale University Press

Szalavitz, Maia & Bruce D. Perry. (2010) Born for Love: Why empathy is essential — and endangered. New York: HarperCollins

The Abinger Institute. (2008) The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict. San Francisco: BK Publishers

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