Do you want to have authentic happiness and success? Then pursue meaning! This is the least travelled road, but it is your best bet on finding a fulfilling future according to ancient wisdom and modern science.
Hear me out and try it out by attending our next meetup on Meaning Living.
Meaning is not only the core of human experience, but also the key to human survival and thriving as individuals as a species. In addition to functioning as a protective factor, meaning also plays a crucial role in navigating troubled waters, and recovering from trauma and mental illness (Russo-Netzer, Schulenberg, & Batthyany, 2016).
After several decades of scientific research, I can confidently support Viktor Frankl’s thesis: “the quest for meaning is the key to mental health and human flourishing” (Frankl, 1985). All the available research findings on meaning in life (e.g., Battyany & Russo-Netzer, 2014; Hicks & Routledge, 2013; Wong, 2012) indicate that the human quest for meaning is a primary human motivation, favored by evolution because of its numerous adaptive benefits.
More specifically, I am proposing that humans are by nature spiritual-existential creatures, with the universal tendency to seek God (higher power) and self-transcendental meaning as a buffer against the terrors of death (Becker, 1974; Routledge, 2018) and evils of life (Becker, 1985; Wong, 2019).
The Importance of Supernatural Beliefs
Routledge (2018) provided a lot of experimental evidences to prove that “supernatural thinking is just a natural part of how the human brain works” (xiv). He argued that atheists should not readily dismiss supernatural beliefs in God and the ultimate meaning of life as ignorant superstitions, because many believers are intelligent scientists. Furthermore, scientific research has shown that faith in God is the most effective antidote to our existential anxieties about our own mortality and our lonely struggles against an uncertain future, and all the stresses, sicknesses, failures, and natural and social evils (Wong, 2015; 1993; Park, 2010).
I have emphasized that religious faith and belief in the intrinsic meaning of life are important for experiencing meaning because we are existential beings, living in the shadow of death and suffering. That is why it is not possible to have a complete account of meaning in life without understanding the meaning of suffering (Wong, 2019) and the meaning of death (Wong & Tomer, 2011).
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner (2007) reminded us that faith in God will always shine even in the darkest moment: “God is the light shining in the midst of darkness, not to deny that there is darkness in the world but to reassure us that we do not have to be afraid of the darkness because darkness will always yield to light. As theologian David Griffin puts in, God is all-powerful, His power enables people to deal with events beyond their control and He gives us the strength to do those things because He is with us.”
Happiness Versus Meaning
So many people are busy pursuing happiness without finding it. Your life becomes better when you pursue meaning rather than happiness. Better does not mean easier, but it means that you will become fully engaged, creating something of objective value, and experiencing a sense of significance and fulfillment.
While the pursuit of meaning leads to authentic happiness (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), the process is often associated with delay of gratification, self-sacrifices, disciplined hard work, and painful struggles to overcome failures and obstacles (Wong, 2019). However, deep satisfaction and enduring happiness can only come from both the process of striving for meaning and the outcome of finding meaning (Wong, 2016a).
In this meetup, I will explain the nature of meaning and the sources of meaning. More importantly, I will explain the different pathways to meaning and the various activities you can do to find meaning in your work, relationships and life as a whole.
Here is my Meaning Manifesto (Wong, 2016b) for you to ponder:
“Life is much more than the everyday busyness of making a living or striving for personal success. Life is much more than a constant struggle of coping with harsh realities by fighting or escaping. Life can be lived at a deeper level and on a higher plane by adopting a meaning-mindset as your basic life orientation. Your life has intrinsic meaning and value because you have a unique purpose to fulfill. You are endowed with the capacity for freedom and responsibility to choose a life of meaning and significance. Don’t settle for anything less. No matter how confusing and bleak your situation, there is always beauty, truth, and meaning to be discovered, but you need to cultivate a mindful attitude and learn to transcend self-centredness. Don’t always ask what you can get from life, but ask what life demands of you. May you be awakened to your sense of responsibility and the call to self-transcendence. You become fully human only when you devote your life to serving a higher purpose and the common good. Let your inner goodness and conscience be your guide. Let compassion be your motive and may you see the world and yourself through the lens of meaning and virtue. You will experience transformation and authentic happiness when you practice meaningful living. Now, go forward with courage and integrity and pursue your ideals against all odds with the defiant human spirit.”
RSVP for this latest Meaningful Living Meetup at https://www.meetup.com/Toronto-Meaningful-Living-Group/events/265183847/?isFirstPublish=true
- Batthyany, A. & Russo-Netzer, P. (Eds.). (2014). Meaning in Positive and Existential Psychology. New York, NY: Springer.
- Becker, E. (1985). Escape from Evil. New York, NY: Free Press.
- Becker, M. H. (1974, December 1). The Health Belief Model and Sick Role Behaviour. Health Education Monographs, 2(4), 409-419. https://doi.org/10.1177/109019817400200407
- Frankl, V. E. (1985). Man’s Search for Meaning. New York, NY: Washington Square Press.
- Hicks, J. A. & Routledge, C. (Eds.). (2013). The Experience of Meaning in Life: Classical Perspectives, Emerging Themes, and Controversies. New York, NY: Springer.
- Kushner, S. (2007). Overcoming Life’s Disappointments: Learning from Moses How to Cope with Frustration. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
- Park, C. L. (2010). Meaning Coping, and Health and Well-Being. In S. Folkman (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Stress, Health, and Coping (pp. 227-241). DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195375343.013.0012
- Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association; New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
- Routledge, C. (2018) Supernatural: Death, Meaning, and the Power of the Invisible World. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Russo-Netzer, P., Schulenberg, S. E. & Batthyany, A. (Eds.). (2016). Clinical Perspectives on Meaning: Positive and Existential Psychotherapy. New York, NY: Springer.
- Wong, P. T. P. (1993). Effective Management of Life Stress: The Resource-Congruence Model. Stress Medicine, 9, 51-60. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.714.7339&rep=rep1&type=pdf
- Wong, P. T. P. (2015). A Meaning-Centered Approach to Overcoming Loneliness During Hospitalization, Old Age, and Dying. In A. Sha’ked, & A. Rokach (Eds.), Addressing Loneliness: Coping, Prevention and Clinical Interventions. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.723.2723&rep=rep1&type=pdf
- Wong, P. T. P. (2016a). Meaning-seeking, self-transcendence, and well-being.In A. Batthyany (Ed.), Logotherapy and existential analysis: Proceedings of the Viktor Frankl Institute (Vol. 1; pp. 311-322). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2016b). Meaning centered positive group intervention. In P. Russo-Netzer, S. Schulenberg, & A. Batthyány (Eds.), Clinical perspectives on meaning: Positive and existential psychotherapy(pp. 423-445). New York, NY: Springer.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019). Assessing Jordan B. Peterson’s contribution to the psychology of well-being: A book review of 12 Rules of Life. International Journal of Wellbeing, 9(1), 83-102. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v9i1.829
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019, July 31). Second wave positive psychology’s (PP 2.0) contribution to counselling psychology. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/second-wave-positive-psychologys-contribution-to-counselling-psychology/
- Wong, P. T. P. (Ed.) (2012). The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research, and Applications. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Wong, P. T. P., & Tomer, A. (2011). Beyond Terror and Denial: The Positive Psychology of Death Acceptance. Death Studies, 35, 99-106. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/documents/wong-PP-of-death-acceptance-death-studies2011.pdf
Wong, P. T. P. (2019). Meaning is the Key to Mental Health and Flourishing. Retrieved from www.drpaulwong.com/meaning-is-the-key-to-mental-health-and-flourishing