Meaning From Multiple Sources

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In the PERMA model the M is for meaning and purpose, a crucial part of living a happy life.  All of us have either found meaning or are looking for it, whether we realise it or not.  To find our meaning we first list our values and priorities. At the top of that list will be what matters most, your meaning in life. Attaching yourself to this higher value or priority does for the nonreligious and unbelievers what religion can: attach meaning to something bigger than you are. Even better is that meaning can come from multiple sources, thereby boosting our ability to get through life happy and fulfilled.

One of the founding father’s of modern humanistic psychology is Victor Frankl. He founded Logotherapy which is literally ‘meaning therapy’. Fankl was a holocaust survivor and finding meaning in the face of something that terrible was the only way he found to cope:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  Victor Fankl

Frankl spoke of three main sources of meaning:

  1. Work: Not necessarily just a job but any purposeful work.
  2. Love:  Love in any form it comes in (spouse, family, friends..etc). Frankl felt love to be the person that brings out the best in you. “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.” Victor Frankl
  3. Suffering: Courage in the face of difficulties. “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.’ -Victor Frankl

The most recent and comprehensive study found four main areas of meaning:

  1. Purpose: Present events draw meaning from their connection to future outcomes — objective goals and subjective fulfillment.
  2. Values: Which can justify certain courses of action.
  3. Efficacy: The belief that one can make a difference.
  4. Self-worth: Reasons for believing that one is a good and worthy person apparently are what results from immersion in our natural talents or what we excel at.  (Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs (2005, p. 610))

Studies vary about where people get their meaning from. One study found ‘Family was by far the most commonly cited source of meaning in life, with an overwhelming majority of mentions (36.14%). Interpersonal relations was the next most mentioned source of meaning (14.40%), followed by personal life (9.65%) and work (8.83%).” (Melissa E. Grouden, Paul E. Jose) But another one found 10 sources of meaning (Reker and Wong (1988)). Yet another study by Westerhof, Bohlmeijer, and Valenkamp (2004) found 5 sources of meaning. They all have 2 things in common:

  1. Internal sources of meaning: Personal growth, values and ideals, religious/spiritual enlightenment, emotional intelligence…etc.
  2. External sources of meaning: Work, leisure, relationships, cultural and religious activities…etc.

What all of this tells us is two things: First, that you don’t need to take meaning from just one thing and second that meaning can also change. Taking meaning from multiple sources ensures us that if we ever lose one source of meaning another is always there to keep us going through life, a safety net and the bigger the net the better. Also, our lives can change at any given moment and so it is prudent to regularly re-examine what gives our life meaning.  Knowing this we will always have a source of strength and a fundamental tool in our ability to cope with life.

 

Sources:

Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984. Print.

Making Meaning in Life. Michael F. Steger. Psychological Inquiry , 23: 381–385, 2012 Copyright C ©Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. http://www.michaelfsteger.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Steger-PI-2012.pdf

Emmons, R. (2003). Personal goals, life meaning, and virtue: Wellsprings of a positive life. In C. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.)

Baumeister (1991). Meanings of life. New York:

Guilford.Baumeister, R. & Vohs, K. (2005). Meaningfulness in life. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez, Handbook of positive psychology, pp. 608-618). Oxford UK: Oxford University Press.

Emmons, R. (1997). Motives and goals. In R. Hogan & J. A. Johnson (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology, (p 485-512). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

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Reverence For Your Own Life

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A strong humanistic concept. As long one is careful to remember that other people have the same right to want the best for themselves we can embrace this idea and reach for ‘the greatest, the highest possible’ through hardwork and reasonable amounts of compromise.

Top Insights for 2017 from Greater Good Magazine at University of Berkeley

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We are a big fans of Greater Good Magazine and in December they released their top ten insights from 2017. All ten are fantastic:

      1. Emotional experience is much richer than we thought: The research suggests that not only do we have a lot more emotions but they exist on a spectrum from one emotion to another “This research dovetails with the emerging notion that a happy and meaningful life is not just about feeling good. In fact, experiencing a greater variety of emotions—even mixed emotions—may be key to our health and well-being.”
      2. Young people aren’t the only ones who need a sense of purpose: Hope and meaning helps older adults deal with the effects of aging. Cognitive function is higher in adults with a sense of purpose.”In combination with earlier findings that link purpose to better health and lower disease risk, these studies lend more credence to the claim that a sense of purpose is an important component of a healthy lifestyle for older adults”
      3. We know less than we thought about the impact of mindfulness and meditation: Small sample sizes and other poor research designs plague studies on the effects mindfulness.  Scientists often don’t even agree on the definition on ‘mindfulness’ or ‘meditation’. This in no way devalues its usefulness but it does push the need for truth about the practice and that more thorough research is needed before we can say we understand it.
      4. You can probably change your relationship style—and even your personality: Up until this year majority of studies suggest our attachment style is set in childhood but this year two studies suggest that this may not be true. “After the intimacy-building exercises, participants with more avoidant attachment styles rated their relationships as higher-quality than they had beforehand. And according to a survey of participants one month later, the more avoidant participants had become less so (less distanced from their partners and more willing to be close).”
      5. Music can make you a more creative, mindful person: “Our shared love of music helps connect us socially, in part by enhancing kind, helpful, generous behaviors. But recent research suggests that music has other potential benefits that we are only beginning to understand—namely, it seems to increase our mindfulness and our ability to think creatively.”
      6. Taking care of others might be good for your own resilience: A small but eye opening study suggests that helping people when they have problems acts like a stress resilience building exercise. “Helping [others] regulate their emotional reactions to stressful situations may be a particularly powerful way to practice and hone our own regulation skills, which can then be applied to improve our own emotional well-being,” the researchers write.
      7. “Phubbing” could hurt your relationships: No surprise here but because the act of snubbing someone for your phone is a recent phenomena so not many studies have been released on its effects. However last year two surveys found exactly what could be expected: Snubbing someone for your phone hurts our relationship with that person.  Interestingly the studies also suggest that being snubbed for someone’s phone feeds technology addiction “The phubbing group reported feeling more excluded in interactions with others, which (in turn) led to a greater need for attention, more intense social media use, and poorer well-being. “
      8. Kindness at work seems to be contagious: It was already widely known that kindness begets kindness but recent studies show that this can happen at the workplace as well. Even a cold, competitive environment like a corporate office can benefit from random acts of kindness that people have tendency to pay forward.
      9. Students of all ethnicities could benefit from diverse classrooms: Another study that furthered an already known fact: Diversity creates creates less racial prejudice and higher education and income levels later in life. A recent study found this to be a universal truth across all ethnicities. “As classrooms became more racially balanced, students of all ethnicities felt safer, less bullied, and less lonely.”
      10. The individual and social impact of SEL might last a long time: SEL (social-emotional learning) has been shown to improve moods, social skills, school performance…etc. Up until currently however it was not known that it could last as long as four years. “The review looked at studies of 82 SEL programs for K-12 students. Comparing students who participated in SEL programs to those who didn’t, the results showed significant benefits that persisted from one to nearly four years afterward”

I really like all of these, all show the benefits of the sciences on our ability to cope. Even this one article shows that emotion is a rich and diverse experience, everyone benefits from a sense of purpose,  caring for others is good for you too and we can always change for the better.  The entire article is worth a closer look.

 

Gratitude Journal #2: Applying Optimism

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In November I wrote about keeping a gratitude journal, a journal in which you literally write a list of things in which you are grateful for. Over time the journal builds a more grateful attitude, a useful tool for being happier. Professionals recommend an additional strategy when writing a gratitude journal; apply optimism in your journal writing. The most comprehensive look at what optimism is that is available online was written by Max More in 1998 (Dynamic Optimism) and has 2 parts:

Part 1: Interpreting experience positively

  1.  Selective Focus: Emphasizing the enjoyable, constructive, open aspects of life.
  2. Refraining from Complaining: Avoiding pointless complaining and whining about one’s difficulties. Taking the world as it is and not complaining that life isn’t fair.
  3. Questioning Limits: A constructive skepticism that challenges the limiting beliefs held by ourselves, our associates, and our society. A fundamental creative openness to possibilities.
  4. Sense of Abundance: Feeling free to do what you want, rather than feeling compelled by circumstances or people. Recognizing the world to be full of opportunities. Being for things, not against things.
  5. Humor: Seeing one’s own shortcomings with a sense of humor. Allowing healthy, good-natured humor to reveal new perspectives and combat dogmatic thinking. (More, 1998)

Part2: Influencing Outcomes Positively

  1. Rational: Using reason rather than being lead by fears and desires. Objectively assessing situations and taking action based on understanding reality apart from our wishes.
  2. Self-Improving: Optimists see the self as a process and seek continual improvement. Their drive to improve is not pushed by fear but pulled by a inspiring self-image.
  3. Experimental: Frequently trying fresh approaches, staying out of ruts, actively seeking more effective ways of achieving goals, and being willing to take calculated risks.
  4. Self-Confident: Believing that we can bring about good things. A fundamental conviction of competence in living.
  5. Self-Worth: Believing one is worthy of success and happiness. Without this, attempts to improve one’s life will lack motivation.
  6. Personal Responsibility: Taking charge and creating the conditions for success. Being aware of how we determine our chances of success. This crucially involves integrity: living according to one’s values.
  7. Selecting Environment: Being attracted to positive people and situations. Seeking out those who will support and inspire, not discourage, distract, and undermine.

DYNAMIC OPTIMISM is an active, empowering, constructive attitude that creates conditions for success by focusing and acting on possibilities and opportunities.

Merely believing that everything will work out fine without taking action makes one a foolish optimist, not a dynamic optimist. For optimism to give us the power to overcome the limits in our lives it needs to fully recognize reality, not hide from it. For optimism to maximize our abilities and happiness, we have to take responsibility for our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. This world is full of possibility. We can achieve almost anything we can conceive. Yet we will move forward only by turning dreams into practical, rational, responsible thinking. This kind of thinking will naturally generate productive activity. (More, 1998)

To also practice optimism when writing your gratitude journal you simply add a negative event and ask the following questions about it?

  • What will be the first sign this is no longer affecting me?
  • How will I know I have bounced back?
  • What evidence do I have that this event is something that affects most people, and isn’t necessarily my fault?
  • Since it happens to others, does it make sense to continue to blame myself?
  • What can I do today to bounce back from this?
  • If this event didn’t happen, how would I have spent my emotional energy? What would I have done in its place? (source)
  • Also consider what about optimism applies here. Maybe humour, should I laugh at this? Maybe I wasn’t being rational, maybe I need to select a better environment? Am I taking responsibility where circumstances warrant it? etc.

There exists a substantial amount of evidence that by changing our thinking we can change our moods (with a few exceptions). In fact, Cognitive-Behaviroual Therapy is based on this principle. We can use our journal to train our thinking to be more optimistic and grateful at the same time. Getting to the source of what made an event negative helps us to understand and deal with it better.  In a future article we will  look at the cognitive distortions that make an event seems negative to further understand why a negative event is not as bad as we think.

 

More Reading:

Ten Positive Psychology Practices for Boosting Happiness

The Psychology of Optimism and Pessimism: Theories and Research Findings

Optimism: Clinical Psychology Review

Optimism and Its Impact on Mental and Physical Well-Being

The Neural Basis of Optimism and Pessimism

 

Journal December 23, 2017: Happy Holidays

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December is always a bad month for the blog but good for me. I’m a parent and so December is a magical time of year but it’s also a very busy time of year so posting new material is very hard to do on a regular basis and so my apologies to regular readers. The blog has plenty of ground to cover for the new year but first a holiday post and thoughts and reflections on the past year.

The Holidays

What a powerful time of year for millions. A lot of religious holidays and for the non-religious winter solstice is here. A surprising many people simply celebrate a time to share and be together with friends and family. Whatever your reason for celebrating if you live in the western world you very likely are celebrating something in December. We all know the dangers of the commercialization of the holidays but it is a great time to remember things everyone, not matter what religion or belief can and should be reflecting on:

  • The spirit of giving: Celebrating generosity and charity.
  • Family and relationships: Being grateful for having our loved ones.
  • Lessons from the past year, the good and bad.

Reflections From 2017

This past year year has been one of quite a bit of positive change to the blog.

  1. Not anti-religion but pro-happiness: This blog used to be quite anti-religion but it’s now our firm belief that the dangers of religion are already known to majority of the readers this blog reaches. Even if this is not the case taking a more positive approach will have a better long term effect on helping people leave religion behind. Helping people be happy free of religion is just a better way in all aspects.
  2. Embrace the humanities: Psychology and philosophy already have more relevant facts and reflections on living a happy life than this blog could ever hope to share and so that is now our primary content.
  3. Journal: A more personal addition to the blog. This helps everyone see it’s a real person (I even added my picture) behind the words.

Going into 2018

A surprising fact: I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions.  We should all be resolving to make things better far more often than once a year. If you’ve ever worked in the fitness industry you will know how bad new year’s resolutions are: a sudden influx of fitness club members from Jan-to March. In March or April it’s right back down to normal again, a sad reflection on unrealistic goals and the fragility of new year’s resolutions. However, we do have a few goals for 2018:

  • To break even: Right now this blog is paid out of my own pocket. It would be great to even make enough in a year to pay for the blog itself. Should we even get to the point of profit then we can start donating to charities. At that point we are not only able to donate to charity we are also reaching enough people with our message of hope to make the blog make money, very positive indeed.
  • Reach more people: Hopefully social networking works for us this year. A happy life is possible free of religions and superstitions and it is our hope a lot more people see that this year.
  • Publish the Hope page: Create enough content that the Hope page becomes a place people can go and at least get started on a more psychologically healthy life.

Whatever you are doing through the holidays and whatever your goals keep them positive and you can’t go wrong. Thank you to everyone who reads this blog, we appreciate your support and most of all: