Meaning in Life

4 December 2009

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm doing vs. what I could be doing, and what's important in life -- finding meaning in life, rather than looking for The Meaning of Life. Several books have helped draw my thoughts together, including Melissa Everett's Making a Living While Making a Difference, which I read more than 10 years ago, and two I read more recently: the Dalai Lama's Ethics for a New Millennium, and Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Here are some thoughts:

  • Central ideas from the Dalai Lama's book: (a) the fundamental desire of everyone is to avoid suffering and to be happy, and (b) the way to achieve true happiness and fulfillment for yourself is to help others avoid suffering and be happy.
  • Central ideas from Viktor Frankl's book: we can only be happy and satisfied in life (and mentally healthy) if we have a sense of meaning in our lives: a reason to live, a goal, a "why". This sense of meaning can be found from three sources: action/work (doing something significant), love (caring for someone), and dignity (showing courage and hope in the face of unavoidable suffering).
  • Central idea from Melissa Everett's book: You'll be happier with your work if it aligns with your values, which means that you need to first understand what your values are, and then think about how you can find work that fits them.
  • My list of activities to concentrate on, to bring meaning, happiness, and fulfillment to my life:
    • Spending time with family and friends, and supporting them through difficult times
    • Expanding my knowledge, perspectives, and connections (reading, traveling, study, being outdoors)
    • Helping others improve their lives (volunteering, teaching)
    • Intellectual challenges (writing software, puzzles, games)
    • Creativity (crochet, sewing, cooking, making music, writing)
    • Health (eating well, exercise)