There are many, far too many, who feel that this life is so hopeless especially as they see daily the depredations, the horrors perpetrated by people on and against others.
Others believe that the only purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness and wealth regardless. Yet the founder of the discipline of psychiatry, Victor Frankel, wrote that it is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.
Meaning is also about transcending the present moment. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, as all emotions do. Feelings of pleasure are fleeting. Meaning on the other hand is enduring.
There have been studies conducted where people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles felt more meaning.
Another study confirmed that people who have meaning in their lives in the form of a clearly defined purpose rated their satisfaction with life higher, even when they were feeling bad, than those who did not have a clearly defined purpose.
Frankel, a Holocaust survivor,also wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man, but one thing, and that cannot ever be taken, and that is his freedom to choose his own attitude, to choose his own way, to find meaning even in the most trying or terrible of circumstances.”
There is no doubt that those who have purpose and meaning in life increase their overall wellbeing and life satisfaction and, as a result, improve their mental and physical health as well as self esteem.
It has been shown most clearly that such people conclusively state that this meaning derives in large part from giving away a part of themselves, in other words living as much as possible a selfless life. Against this positive and meaningful life there are many who, weary of life's ongoing hardships,ask themselves from time to time, 'Why am I here, what's the point of it all?'. Actually they are really looking for meaning and purpose in their lives.
In reality, there is no secret to this, its way or path lies just buried a little beneath the surface of the mind and heart and discovering this is one of the greatest and most noble things a person can undertake. To find that path there are ways and patterns which will ultimately lead one into that more meaningful life which can be used as a guide.
Taker or Giver?
Firstly, one has to look at one’s attitude to life in general; are you a taker or a giver? Do you expect life to constantly shower you with her beneficence, or rather do you bow before her majesty, greatness and beauty in reverence and ask that she bless you with her beneficence? Do you give often to others in the way of help, love? If so, you are already well on your way to a more meaningful life.
Find your significance, make valuable contributions to others whether it be in the form of goods, or writings, or projects or as a caregiver, etc, as long as you are giving of yourself.
Decide what matters the most to you in this world then make an impact with it.
It is important to choose wholeness over happiness - happiness is fine, but it is transient, fleeting, here today, gone tomorrow. It does not teach anything really. It is our failures and challenges and how we meet them that grow us and teach us. Certainly, if happiness comes your way embrace it but don't let it fool you since it is so fickle and short lived.
Strive rather for wholeness, firstly on a inner level within your own heart and mind through mindfulness, reflection and even meditation and even when you are faced with disappointments, sadness, frustration or failure you will know that these are all part of the growth towards wholeness. When you focus on this you automatically become more of a giver than a taker, more oriented to enriching the lives of others.
You need to be fully intent about building powerful meaning in your life. Are you choosing to make your moments in life matter or do you disregard the opportunities that could potentially add to an incredibly meaningful life? Sometimes the answers to creating meaning in our lives lie in the small opportunities around us where we can connect with others.
You also need to embrace mindfulness and self reflection, being aware of what you are doing and who you truly are in the present moment and to ask yourself non-judgmentally, ‘What is important to me and what makes me fulfilled?’.
As important is to be able to take time away from a busy life to reflect and to rest.
Another aspect is to be willing, or to dare to take risks because this means going beyond any fears, to step out of your comfort zone. Meaning won't come knocking on your door, you have to actively seek it out. You don't want to live your life wishing that you had done things differently.
Live a life full of meaning by daring to take risks, to step out and away from the mundane.
Trust in loving relationships
Another point to consider is that of relationships which give so much meaning to life.
Can you imagine a life without meaningful relationships? It would surely be rather barren.
In fact, meaningful and close relationships have been instrumental in moving many people into spheres or areas where they have shone and whose lives thereafter have become even more vibrantly meaningful.
Trusting, sharing and giving relationships are the oceans, in a sense, in which we find meaning.
There are, sadly, many souls who cut themselves off from meaningful and deep relationships fearing to get hurt. Of course, there are many who have had bad relationship experiences, but that is all the more reason to carry on looking for a better and more meaningful one where one’s love and sharing is reciprocated. It has been said that we should never underestimate the difference we can make in the lives of others.
Lastly, believe that you are significant because how can you find your significance if you don't believe you are capable of being significant? In fact, the truth is that each of us may have changed more people’s lives for the good than we give ourselves credit for.
If you struggle with valuing yourself and feeling worthy, try to tell yourself every day that you are important and needed in the great cosmic scheme of things and in time you will truly believe it.
Service to others
All of these actions can actually be encapsulated in the word 'renunciation' or sacrifice, the desire to lay aside selfishness, one’s own ambitions in the interests of another or others.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to further your ambitions, particularly if it means bettering the life of you and your family financially. But as one grows older and wiser it can be seen that this ambition can only really apply to the material world, it cannot bring true soul upliftment. One must ultimately become universally oriented.This means adopting a loving and compassionate heart and spirit and being concerned for the sufferings of our fellow humans and indeed for all life forms.
So this all embracing mandate simply means being of service to others and caring for all of life.
Often it entails sacrificing many things that would add to our personal comfort and pleasure. Anyone who renounces, whether in small ways or large, serves life,and, in turn,the universal life will serve them. It is the universal law of attraction in operation. Similarly, he who abuses, ridicules and causes great harm to other life forms will receive the same in return.
Of course, to sacrifice anything is by no means easy. To do so whether for our own good such as for better physical and mental health or for the wellbeing of another takes courage.
How true it is that moral and spiritual bravery stand far above that which concerns only the physical.
People who sacrifice often for others are the “salt of the Earth” as the saying goes. One just has to look back over the centuries at the lives of prophets, saints and men and women of great wisdom to see what fulfilled, joyous and utterly peaceful lives they lived. Yet this does not mean that such people have not confronted major obstacles. Rather, they were able to meet them with equanimity and peace in their hearts knowing that such obstacles will not last.
The British poet, Louise Haskins (1875-1957 ) wrote the following in her
great poem “At the gate of the year”:
“He that enters into the shadow
of another’s pain is nearer the mind of God
and nearer the morning
than he who broods
on the darkness of his own night.”
So it is that when we sacrifice for another’s good, for their wellbeing, are we not then bringing ourselves nearer to the infinite mind of Almighty God?
A T.Prince wrote in 1996, “The idea of renunciation has never been a particularly attractive one for most Western people even if its importance as a ideal has been admitted. For much of the Western world today renunciation seems not so much unpalatable as unfamiliar and actually all but incomprehensible”. Of course, this still applies even today, 20 years later, perhaps even more so.
But this was not always so. For instance, the people of the Middle Ages were actually well acquainted with the traditional Christian concept of the world as something presenting many snares for the soul and of little importance when compared with the eternal life to come.
This all changed with the rapid development of science and technology in the 19 and 20 centuries with endless inventions to make physical life easier and more enjoyable. It encouraged preoccupation with pleasures of the senses and a corresponding indifference to those things which are presumed to lie outside the range of the senses.
So it follows that renunciation is not that simple or easy to engage in and many would say it is pointless. Indeed, maybe you even need to be a saint! Nevertheless, ideas of this nature of sacrifice are becoming more widely accepted in today’s modern world, particularly in Western-influenced countries with even large numbers of Christian and other religious leaders adapting their teachings to this new spirit of the age and stressing, after the Jewish fashion, involvement in the world rather than detachment from it.
Buddhism, too, accepts the ideal of renunciation.Perhaps it could even be regarded as the most optimistic school of thought for it teaches that man can begin freeing himself by his own efforts from suffering and unhappiness. Nor is it nihilistic as the Bhudda taught only the annihilation of suffering and ignorance. Indeed, Buddhism's teaching of Dharma, of fulfilling one’s duty, is essentially a teaching of renunciation.
The following words written by Aram Sarien are most revealing:
Sacrifice is a Must
Have you ever sacrificed the things you love most?
Sacrificed for a greater cause?
Have you ever sacrificed what is for what could be?
Sacrificed everything you've known to be set free?
Have you ever sacrificed routine and blazed your own trail,
sacrificed your anchor to set sail?
Have you ever sacrificed and followed the voice in your heart,
sacrificed to set yourself apart?
Sacrificed for the love of life
sacrificed yourself to reveal your light?
Robert Gresak writes articles of a spiritual nature as a form of service to help and uplift others. He is an ardent nature lover and much admires the wild birds including golden weavers that visit his garden every day. He lives in Durban, South Africa.