How To Create A Life Filled With Hope And Meaning?
Over my seven decades on earth, I have learned that if a person’s life doesn’t have meaning they will likely slide into a state of hopelessness and despair
In the area of personal development, self-improvement, and positive psychology a meaningful life is a construct having to do with the purpose, significance, fulfillment, and satisfaction of life. While specific theories vary, there are two common aspects: a global schema to understand one’s life and the belief that life itself is meaningful. Meaning can be defined as the connection linking two presumably independent entities together.
A meaningful life links the biological reality of life to a symbolic interpretation or meaning. Those possessing a sense of meaning are generally found to have lower levels of negative emotions, lower risk of mental illness, and to be happier.
One of the major counseling approaches to helping a person to find meaning in life is called Logotherapy. This approach emphasizes finding values and purpose in an individual’s life and building relationships with others in order to reach fulfillment and attain meaningfulness. “Value” can be further subcategorized into three main areas:
1. Creative — These values are reached through acts of creating or producing something.
2. Experiential — Experiential values are actualized when a person experiences something through sight, touch, smell, or hearing.
3. Attitudinal — Attitudinal values are reserved for individuals who cannot, for one reason or another, have new experiences or create new things. Thus they find meaning through adopting a new attitude that allows “suffering with dignity”.
For all of these three classes of values, it is because of one’s sense of responsibility that one pursues them and consequently experiences a meaningful life. It is through the realization that one is the sole being responsible for rendering life meaningful that values are actualized and life becomes meaningful.
There are two philosophical approaches that can be taken to address a sense of meaningfulness in life.
1. Terror management theory.
2. Hope theory
Let’s explore each…
1. Terror management theory studies meaningfulness and its relationship to culture. A human’s consciousness makes them aware of their own mortality.In order to deal with their inevitable death, humans attempt to leave their mark in some symbolic act of immortality within the structured society. The structure created through society and culture provides humans with a sense of order. Through the structured society, we are able to create symbolic immortality which can take various forms, e.g., monuments, theatrical productions, children, etc. Culture’s order reduces death anxiety as it allows the individual to live up to the societal standards and in living up to such ideals; one is given self-esteem which counterbalances the mortal anxiety.
2. Hope theory operationalizes meaningfulness as having more to do with self-control that leads to higher self-esteem. As one lives by societal standards of living, one exercises self-control and it is through this self-control that higher self-esteem is achieved. Meaning is found when one realizes that one is capable and able to effectively achieve their goals through successful management. Control is “a cognitive model whereby people strive to comprehend the contingencies in their lives so as to attain desired outcomes and avoid undesirable ones”. From this feeling of control, meaningfulness is achieved when one feels able to effectively live his/her life and achieve goals.
Another approach, Narrative Psychology proposes that people construct life stories as a way to understand life events and impose meaning on life, thus connecting [via explanation] the individual to the event. Meaningfulness is a subjective evaluation of how well these stories connect to the person. Furthermore, meaningfulness is actualized through positive functioning, satisfaction with life, the enjoyment of work, happiness, positive affect, and hope. Meaningfulness can also be translated into physical health and generalized well-being. Baumeister posits that meaningfulness is divided into four needs: sense of purpose, efficacy, value, and a sense of positive self-worth.
If you have an interest in exploring the philosophy and psychology of “Meaning” I recommend you begin with Man’s Search for Meaning, a 1946 book by Viktor Frankl chronicling his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and describing his psychotherapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about, and then immersively imagining that outcome. According to Frankl, the way a prisoner imagined the future affected his longevity. The book intends to answer the question “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” Part One constitutes Frankl’s analysis of his experiences in the concentration camps, while Part Two introduces his ideas of meaning and his theory of Logotherapy.
Author: Lewis Harrison is an Independent Scholar with a passion for knowledge, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory. His website is AskLewis.com
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