Author. The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Foundations of Logoteleology
Viktor Frankl stated that “the future of logotherapy is dependent on all logotherapists.” Further, he stated that he wished “that the cause of logotherapy be taken over and carried out by independent and inventive, innovative and creative spirits.” Inspired by Viktor Frankl, the science of logoteleology or Meaningful Purpose Psychology emerged as a new discipline that leveraged empirical research from various schools of psychology. Meaningful Purpose Psychology is the scientific study of the meanings that enable people and institutions to succeed. For an in-depth understanding of the theory a good place to start is to read my book, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. This paper touches on the subject of meanings and what is meaningful; explain why they are relevant, and how they can be leveraged.
Meanings in Logoteleology
According to Frankl, as a stimulus, “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.” And, “There is only one meaning to each situation, and this is its true meaning.” Taken this way meaning answers the question, What is the meaning of the sender’s message or of the situation?
The listener’s task is to interpret correctly what he or she hears so that its meaning is clearly understood. Burke and Stets defined meaning as “a set of responses that people make to a stimulus or a sign.” For instance, if I am introduced to a visitor and she smiles and extends her hand toward me, I could interpret those actions as friendly intentions, or it could mean the person is friendly. Meaning, in this sense, answers, What is the meaning I give to this situation/person? Hence there is the meaning of the source (as per Frankl) and the meaning decoded by the receiver (as per Burke and Stets).
Making reference to semantics and systems theory, the British analytical psychologist Dale Mathers summarizes well what the combined intended meaning and the decoded meaning denote: “Meaning is an act of communication, rather than a communication.” The act of communication is a two-way exchange that requires the encoding and the deconstruction (or decoding) of meanings. Adler expands:
A private meaning is, in fact, no meaning at all.
Meaning is not only possible in communication, for a
word which meant something to one person only would
really be meaningless. It is the same with our aims and
actions, since their only meaning is their meaning for
Dale Mathers adds, “Internally generated meanings require validation by the collective, to avoid solipsism (private language).” He later affirms that “we share co-responsibility for the construction of meaning” and that to do so “we must engage in our experience with a kind of democracy of appreciation.” This democracy of appreciation — the space where the parties are co-responsible for the construction of meaning — requires mutual trust.
But why does this matter? How is sharing co-responsibility for the construction of meaning relevant? And isn’t this obvious?
It matters because it reminds us that in order to survive and thrive as a civilization, we need shared meanings to get things done, amiably. It is relevant because unless we take personal responsibility to allow, cooperate, and transcend in our interactions, we are not going to be able to appreciate one another. What is obvious is that, too frequently, we are still failing in great measure to solve our most pressing problems and getting along.
Meanings and Feelings
Decoding meanings includes understanding the emergence of feelings [i] in a transaction. Gestalt practitioners Joseph Melnick and Sonia March Nevis affirm, “Labeling of a sensation is one way to define ‘meaning.’” This means that when people face a situation, their sensory reaction means something worth understanding. Thus, in this sense, meaning is the labeling of a sensation. It answers, “What does this feeling mean?”
For instance, let’s imagine a worker we will call Julie. Her boss never calls her unless it is to give her “constructive feedback” pertaining to her performance. Upon returning to her office from a business trip, Julie finds a message from her boss in her voice mail’s inbox asking her to call him as soon as possible. Julie’s stomach turns and feelings of anxiety surface. Her feelings are telling Julie based on past experiences that no good will come from this call. Thus, her feelings are conveying meanings.
Taking all of the above definitions in consideration, it can be said that meaning is also an inner guidance system that pays attention to, collects, and stores relevant information in order to appraise and make decisions. It scans, draws, and filters important incoming data. Thus, we all have a meaning system that manages our attention. As a system it analyzes the implications (i.e. gives meaning) of incoming information and considers options.
Once incoming data is understood, the meanings become instructions, expectations, and aims. Consequently, and according to logoteleology, in an identity, meanings set the agenda. But why do meanings set the agenda? To what end are they met and for whom? Rychlack explains that “meaning is an organization or pattern that extends its significance to some relevant target.” Meaning provides the “why” a situation or person deserves our attention. We act meanings (why) through action-oriented purposes (what and how) for the sake of a target.
What is Meaningful and Not?
According to logoteleology theory, meaningful actions are positive, mutually beneficial, transcendental, altruistic, and replenishing. On the other hand, when people are at the receiving end of the meaningless they feel negative, gloomy and exhausted. Based on the best empirical research available,[ii] logoteleologists concluded that there are five meaningful life strivings that make life fulfilling and meaningful. A vibrant, meaningful life, we concluded, is measured by the degree in which we accomplish these five strivings:
- LOVE: Being in loving and caring relationships.
- PEACE: Nurturing harmony and having peace of mind. Handling conflict constructively.
- HAPPINESS: Making self and others happy.
- INTEREST AND FLOW: Living, learning, working, and sharing a stimulating, productive, and interesting life with others.
- PROSPERITY: Building and securing intellectual, experiential, financial affluence. Achieving a meaningful legacy.
Logoteleology encourages individuals and institutions to consider the five meaningful life strivings as life standards. Their antonyms – the meaningless — are too harmful to consider as reasonable alternatives, and they explain the root of humanity’s social problems.
Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MPP) also proposes that
- Love is a precondition to peace and peace of mind
- Love and peace are preconditions to happiness
- Love, peace, and happiness are preconditions to interest or engagement (e.g. flow)
- (Competent and responsible) Interest, engagement and flow can be a source of love, peace, and happiness
- Interest or flow is a precondition to (meaningful and genuine) prosperity (i.e. intellectual, financial, experiential)
Why do Meanings and the Meaningful Matter?
Empirical research and common sense have offered sufficient evidence to support the practice of the five meaningful life strivings. Because Meaningful Purpose Psychology is a pragmatic existential school of psychology, the science is dedicated to help people apply its principles and propositions in daily life. I don’t have space to write them all, but here are some worth considering:
- We give meaning to ourselves, people, and situations. Whatever meaning we give to ourselves, others, and situations, we will act or live them out.
- Humans are innately meaningful. For the human species to thrive, we must define one another as naturally imbued with dignity, potential for good, and deserving of love and care. The same applies to our planet’s ecology.
- The five meaningful life strivings – love, peace, happiness, interest / flow, and prosperity – should become life standards and guide decision-making.
- As a rule, giving a positive meaning and being meaningful toward others builds others. There is a risk in attributing ill intent or demonizing others. Doing so does not build and solve; rather it divides and demeans.
- All humans have a meaningful purpose to achieve. Central to that purpose is behaving in meaningful ways and nurturing positive environments where everyone can discover and fulfill her of his meaningful purpose; and build a thriving society.
Luis A. Marrero is the founder and CEO of the Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose, and the pioneer or Meaningful Purpose Psychology or Logoteleology. He is an author, facilitator, consultant, speaker, and coach with a global reach. Luis lives in Westfield, Massachusetts.
©2015 Luis A. Marrero, Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose. Westfield, Massachusetts.
 Frankl, Viktor E., The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (New York: Meridian, 1998), 158.
 Ibid., 62.
 Ibid., 60.
 Burke, Peter J., and Jan E. Stets, Identity Theory (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2009), 93.
 Mathers, Dale, Meaning and Purpose in Analytical Psychology (Philadelphia:
Taylor and Francis, Inc., 2001), 3.
 Ansbacher, Heinz, and Rowena Ansbacher., ed, The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (Basic Books: First Edition, First Printing Edition, 1956), 156.
 Mathers, Dale, Meaning and Purpose in Analytical Psychology, 11.
 Ibid., 115.
 Nevis, Edwin C., Ed., Gestalt Therapy (New York: Gardner Press, 1992), 69.
 Rychlack, Joseph F., Logical Learning Theory: A Human Teleology and Its Empirical
Support (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 316.
[i] In logoteleology feelings are evaluative affective experiences, and emotion is energy that sets motion or motivation.
[ii] For access to this research read my book, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose, and my blog: https://authorluismarrero.wordpress.com/